Slow Cooker Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Meatballs and Marinara

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In the town I grew up in there is a pizza place. When I was little every time my family would get takeout from there my dad and I both had to get their spaghetti and meatballs. I’m not even sure why because it was actually incredibly mediocre. You could tell it was frozen and the sauce tasted like water, but that was my and my dad’s thing.

Because of that spaghetti and meatballs is a dish I’ve been working to perfect for the last few years. I’ve baked, I’ve fried, I’ve played with the meat proportions and what veggies and herbs go in it. I’ve done it all and didn’t feel quite right about a single one, until now. I owe it all to my new best friend, my slow cooker. Instead of baking or frying we are going to use the best baking method known to man, braising, which is first browning the meat for flavor and texture then cooking it low and slow in a liquid, which in this case is a quick and homemade marinara. By letting the meatballs go with the sauce in the slow cooker for a few hours not only do you get stupid tender meatballs, but your sauce ends up getting that “cooked all day by someone’s grandma” flavor. You get all of that reward AND get to spend most of the cooking time not actually cooking.

If you have kids this would be a great one to start while they’re in school and have ready for dinner. You could even have them help roll the meatballs for you to create a convenient sweatshop great family bonding experience. Or if you feel like you live at your job like I do this is something great to whip up on your day off because you can relax or run errands while it cooks and then you’ll have dinner covered for days.

In addition to the cooking process this recipe is also special because of the flavor. The meatballs and marinara both are packed with roasted garlic to create a fragrant and slightly sweet flavor as well as Italian herbs to really bring it all home.

Roasted Garlic

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So roasting garlic is an incredibly simple process and I love adding it to recipes because I guess the best way to describe it is as garlic in its ultimate form. It becomes sweeter and nuttier when roasted. Plus it being cooked for so long without burning causes it to practically melt. Seriously, it just squeezes out of its casing like a God-given flavor packet and you can spread it like butter. It’s awesome. Anyway, here’s how you do it.
-preheat your oven to 400
-cut the tops off of as many heads of garlic needed (in this case 5)
-pour 1-2 teaspoons olive oil over the exposed garlic cloves
-wrap each head in foil
-place them on a baking sheet and throw in the oven for 40 minutes
When done they should look like the photo above. Set aside.

Marinara Sauce
-3 heads roasted garlic
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 onion, diced
-1 large (29-32 oz) can tomato puree
-1 15 oz can tomato puree
-1/4 cup water
-2 tablespoons dried basil
-1 tablespoon dried thyme
-1 tablespoon dried oregano
-salt, pepper, sugar to taste

Start by sautéing your onion and oil over medium-high heat with a pinch of salt until translucent,about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water, garlic, and herbs. Make sure to crush/stir the garlic into the sauce. Reduce heat to low. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Set aside.

The Meatballs
-2 lbs ground beef
-1 lb your favorite Italian sausage
-4 eggs
-1/2 cup milk
-1 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
-3/4 cup Parmesan
-2 heads roasted garlic, mashed up
-1/2 onion, grated
-generous pinch salt and pepper

Get your broiler ready. Start by whisking the eggs and milk together until well-combined in a large bowl. Then dump literally everything else in the bowl and start combining with your hands. The mixing process can take some time because you really want to make sure all the ingredients are evenly combined. If you slack here you run the risk or having some pockets with just breadcrumbs that will be incredibly dry, or a pocket with just garlic which would be too intense to bite into. You really have to double check yourself.

Once you feel good about your mix start rolling meatballs that are about an inch or two in diameter and place on a sprayed baking sheet. Once you’ve filled your sheet(s) throw under the broiler until brown, which for my oven was about 10 minutes, but you really need to keep an eye on them. It might take a couple batches.

Pour the marinara into your slow cooker, add the meatballs, turn the heat to low, and spend the next three hours doing whatever you want. When that three hours is done you’ll be blessed with beautiful meatballs. You can smack them on spaghetti with garlic bread and a side salad like I did, or they would make a crazy delicious sub, my boyfriend’s plan for the leftovers. Whichever approach you take make sure lots of Parmesan is involved, and enjoy.

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