Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Happy Place--Meatballs and Spaghetti

This weekend I am inundated with readers photographs of recipes from the blog! In that moment I feel joy, elation, gratitude and an overwhelming sense of validation. I see a wish fulfilled. I read notes from friends who follow my instructions diligently. I envisage far-flung kitchens, aromatic with spice-laden biriyani and crumbly chocolate chip cookies. And I feel good. It's a question of fulfilling my dream and giving back a slice of my pie. 

These pictures put me in happy frame of mind. And when I'm happy I cook. I have a hankering for a large plate of meatballs and spaghetti. Something mundane and satisfying. My mum made this for me and I in turn for my kids, family and friends. My nephew Cole claims my version is the best he's has eaten as he slurps noodles messily. 

There's something about mixing chopped meat, freshly chopped parsley and gooey eggs with your hands that brings a sense of well being. Unlike kababs where the meat is mixed to death, this meat is gently coaxed into small balls. I'm not a big fan of the tennis ball version you get at a lot of Italian restaurants. I prefer a smaller delicate ping-pong sized ball as it allows the meat to be infused with the garlicky tomato sauce. Most of the time I use breadcrumbs as a binder but occasionally it's bread soaked in buttermilk. This variation gives the meatballs a tangy taste I love. Everything is  gently combined with a fork and lovingly coddled into diminutive balls. These small nuggets do not have the perfect round shape. In fact they don't quite retain their rotund shape as they brown. They are almost flattish on top as they brown. A quick fry in olive oil and then a long dunk in tomato gravy and voila! I have a tender, juicy meatball redolent with Italian flavors ready to be forked. 

Serves 4

1 pound ground Beef
1 Egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped Parsley
2 cloves Garlic
A pinch of Pepperocini or Chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black pepper
2 slices White Bread
1/2 cup Buttermilk
2 tablespoons Olive oil

1 28 oz can crushed Tomatoes
2 tablespoons Olive oil
3 cloves Garlic
1 cup Water
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Ground Black Pepper as desired
1/2 packet Spaghetti
Kosher salt
Grated Parmesan cheese

Start with the meatballs. 

Break the slices of bread into small pieces and keep in a shallow bowl. 

Pour buttermilk over bread and let soak for 5 minutes.

Place ground beef, egg, Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, Pepperocini, salt and pepper in a bowl. 

Grate garlic cloves into the beef.

Using a fork mash the bread and buttermilk till you get a semi smooth paste. Add the paste to the meat.

With the same fork, gently turn beef till well mixed. 

Form the beef into golf ball (for want of a better comparison). You should have 20-24 meatballs. These balls are kind of floppy. Since the meat isn't handled too much they firm up once they go into the sauce.

Heat olive oil in a big nonstick saucepan.

Add meatballs to oil and cook on a medium flame till brown and crusty. Flip the meat and cook the other side. This should take 5 to 7 minutes. The meatballs don't need to be cooked all the way through, just nicely browned.

While the meat balls are browning,  begin the sauce.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or deep saucepan. 

Add garlic and let it brown lightly.

Carefully pour in crushed tomatoes, water, oregano, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to a low boil. 

Once the meatballs have brown they go right into the bubbling sauce. Let them cook in the sauce for 20 minutes. Watch out for tomato splatters!!!

Bring 6 to 8 cups of water to a vigorous boil. 

Salt the water generously and add pasta. 

Cook for 8 minutes. Drain and add pasta to sauce. 

Give the sauce an enthusiastic stir.

Serve meatballs and spaghetti on a platter family style, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese.

There is nothing that warms my heart more than a heaping plate of pasta and beef,smothered in Parmesan and some garlic bread. The latter got more than its share of sear! Sliced radish and cucumber round out my plate. And I would love to see this squiggly mess in some else's kitchen too!! Thanks Jen. Thanks Madeleine. Thanks Christine Thanks Geets

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