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Since paprika goes gorgeously with tomatoes, I decided to use this as my key to making a really special version of spaghetti and meatballs. I associate paprika with a couple of really awesome tomatoey beefy dishes out there. Goulash, native to Hungary, but adapted to various other cuisines, is a true celebration of paprika; the old Hungarian origins were a soup/stew in which herdsmen relied on the beauty of sweet paprika to bring flavor to the beef, but modern versions have since been enhanced with the addition of tomatoes. I love the Viennese derivative, a thick dark gravy of paprika and tomato paste, sweetened by caramelized onions, that clings to its fellow plate inhabitants. I also thought of the meatballs that get served as Spanish tapas, so snackable in part because of their tomato sauce flavored with smoky paprika. These dishes were all points of inspiration for my spaghetti and meatballs.
The end result is a smoky, sweet, thick tomato sauce—somewhat resembling a gravy—that coats every meatball and spaghetti strand that gets tossed in it. The meatballs are light and bouncy to balance with the dense sauce. I based my sauce recipe mostly on the Viennese version of goulash, but I used Spice Tribe’s lovely Spanish Pimentón de la Vera to bring a more smoky umami flavor. This gorgeously fragrant paprika is one of my favorites from Spice Tribe’s single origin line because a little sprinkle on top of anything really transforms the aroma of any dish and makes my mouth water before I even take the first bite. But here, I really let it be the star, resulting in a sweet, smokey, rich version of spaghetti and meatballs—universes away from those old childhood days of longing for the tomato sauce from the jar.
I’m calling this recipe my “Spaghetti and Meatballs Paprikash”. Paprikash is derived from the Hungarian word for paprika and is used to describe those paprika-based Hungarian stews that seem to be the origin of all the goulashes around the world that followed. Though there is really not much Hungarian at all about this pasta dish, the name is meant to be a nod to what are possibly some of the oldest paprika-appreciation meals.