Pasta with (Turkey) Sausage and Pepper Meatballs

Serves 6

1 pound Rigatoni, Ziti or other medium pasta shape, uncooked

8 oz. lean ground beef
8 oz. turkey sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup minced onion (1 small)
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper (1/2 medium)
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (about 3 slices)
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

1 recipe Basic Tomato Sauce (see recipe below)
1 tsp. vegetable oil, divided

Place all meatball ingredients in a medium bowl. Knead the mixture with your hands until it is smooth. To prevent sticking, dip your hands into cool water before forming each meatball. Form mixture into 30 1 1/2-inch balls.

Pour the tomato sauce into a large, heavy-bottom saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat. Warm 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add half the meatballs to the skillet and brown them on all sides. Spoon the meatballs into the tomato sauce. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil to the skillet and brown the rest of the meatballs, then add them to the sauce. Simmer, stirring, for 20 minutes.

While sauce is simmering, prepare pasta according to package directions; drain. Transfer to a large serving bowl. Remove bay leaves from sauce; pour sauce over pasta and serve.

Basic Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 28-oz. cans whole tomatoes
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, stir together the oil, onion and garlic. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until the onion is very soft and aromatic, about 6 to 8 minutes. In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste to the onions and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to very low and let the sauce simmer slowly for 30 minutes, stirring the bottom often to prevent burning. If you are adding meatballs, do so at this time, and simmer them in the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring often. If you are not adding meatballs, simmer the sauce for another 20 minutes (50 minutes total). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaves before serving.