Friday, October 10, 2008

meatballs and spaghetti

spaghetti and meatballs "I'll have more wine!" browned meatball

[Guest photography by Elizabeth Bick] A few weeks ago, over a couple bottles glasses of wine, my friend Liz, a photographer, and I got to discussing the photography in the smittenkitchen, and she said she was dying to come in and take some pictures of me at “work” one day. We started fantasizing about doing a 1950s Mad Men-style shoot, rollers in the hair, a frilly but perfectly tailored apron and classic home cooking. In reality, the rollers and the silly apron didn’t quite happen, but Liz came over earlier this week (and then our other friends, a couple hours later for dinner) and we had a blast. So please welcome here today our very first smittenkitchen guest photographer, Elizabeth Bick. I suspect you’ll be as wowed by her photos as I am. [Oh, and in case you're wondering, I do cook everyday in full lip gloss and an apron coordinated with my potholders. I can't believe you even had to ask!]

parsley

Living in New York City, a place where you barely have to walk 10 blocks to find shaved black truffles over artisanal french fries or a fois-stuffed date by a chef with their name on that door, the one a few doors down and several products in the frozen food aisle, I couldn’t honestly give a damn about making futsy food like that at home. By the time I climb my 51 stairs to my apartment in two-inch heels with three heavy bags and, a dripping umbrella and a box of books our house guest has forwarded here, all I am thinking about is the kind of meal that will cancel it all out, and that meal involves not a single ingredient cooked sous-vide.

pot rack and spices eggs mmmmeat!

I could argue that the entire point of this site is for me to find a single reliable recipe for each of my favorite comfort foods, and in most cases, I’ve eventually run into some luck: matzo ball soup, macaroni and cheese, caesar salad and crumb cake. Heck, I’ve even added some of yours, like chicken and dumplings, fried chicken and sweet cherry pie. I think we should all be able to make these things at home, whenever we want.

mega-onion
browning the meatballs

But meatballs and spaghetti have always eluded me. Either the sauce was too salty or too thin, or there just wasn’t enough of it or the meatballs were hard, dry or overcooked. I chose all the wrong meats and cooked them well or the right ones and cooked them until they were like shoe leather. I had no question I needed some professional intervention, I just didn’t know where to go.

making croutons
parsley, bandaid

Well, silly me. I guess I did always know that if you’re looking for a failsafe recipe for something you’ve never gotten right before, Ina’s your woman. Her recipe for spaghetti and meatballs is, in a word, killer. In a few more, insanely good and exactly what I have been looking for, but it didn’t keep me from hacking it a bit, nixing the store-bought bread crumbs (as if!), adding some pureed tomatoes and jacking up some flavors. Which I guess is a lot of changes, if you’re keeping track. But the thing that matters is that they were delicious and comforting and I can’t wait to revisit this recipe in the shivery days of January when we decide to not leave the apartment at all.

deb and her chins! meaballs a-simmering caesar salad

These photos: All of the photos in this post were taken by the inimitable Elizabeth Bick, who specializes in weddings, portraits and food photography. Thanks, Liz!

Also served: My raw egg and anchovy-optional Caesar Salad.

One year ago: Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

Paris! Tonight, we leave for a week in Paris. God, that is so much fun to say, will you indulge me and let me repeat myself? Yes, so, tonight we leave for a week in Paris. And I know what you’re thinking, that Deb and Alex, what is up with all the Paris trips? You see, the first time we went together, well, we got engaged. The second time, we wanted to see everything we’d missed the first time. And what draws us back there, despite the dismal dollar and the current shaky economic ground? Well, a friend offered us an apartment swap for a week, and people, you do not say no to an apartment swap in Paris. And so we go. Tonight! Whee!

Oh right, what about you? Don’t worry, I couldn’t ever really leave you and have set up several posts banked that will publish, like magic, in my absence. Heck, you might not even know I was gone at all, except for the fact that I won’t be able to respond to your comments until I get back. And by then, if all goes well, I’ll have my head in a croissant cloud. Le sigh.

Meatballs and Spaghetti
Adapted liberally from Ina Garten

[Update 10/19/08: In hindsight and in response to several of your comments, I should forewarn that the amount of sauce below is a bit low by US standards, where we more heavily sauce our pastas. I'd suggest even doubling it if you'd like a saucier experience--I suspect I will too next time. Thanks to all who have suggested it! I only wish I had updated this sooner.]

Serves 6

For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 1/4 cups fresh white bread crumbs (about 5 slices, crusts removed)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup good red wine
1 (14-ounce) can pureed tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can chopped or diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan

Make the meatballs: Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, onion powder, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs. (Or perhaps 24, which is what I ended up with. I’m sorry I cannot give you a more precise measure; I am sure your amount will fall somewhere in the middle.)

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. (The good news is that if, say, you’re still waiting for your pot of water to boil for the spaghetti when the meatballs are ready, it’s hard to overcook these. I ended up simmering ours a whole extra 20 to 30 minutes, and they were not in the least dried out. Heaven!)

Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.


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