Saturday, December 22, 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Yeah, OK, spaghetti and meatballs is trite and not very Italian, and who the bleep cares? Ann was in the mood for this classic American comfort food this Sunday, so after we got up, we headed over to FoodMaxx to pick up some tomatoes, garlic, pasta, and ground pork. I prefer pork meatballs to all other kinds: pork is silkier and tastier and well, porkier! And porkier is always better; you know the old maxim, "You can never have too much pork!" Because FoodMaxx has the best ground pork in town (other than what I grind for the restaurant), we went there rather than a more traditional American grocery.

Spaghetti is such a lame cut in my book (and in Ann's too); it's too thin and lacks the bite that I want in my pasta. I was looking for perciatelli (aka bucatini depending on the manufacturer), but FoodMaxx, catering to the Latino and Asian crowd, is not the place with dozens of pasta options. Good pork yes, good pasta, not so much. So we ended up with fettucine which is the wrong cut entirely, but at least it has more heft than spaghetti.

Garlic Anyone?
With the exception of the garlic in the photo above, these are very alien packages of food. Working in a restaurant, I am used to gigantic quantities of everything. The cashier at the store was very cute when she said, "You guys must really love garlic!" We really do, but even for us, this is a lot. This is only a week's supply at the restaurant, however.

Meatball Seasoning: Sage, Parsley, Fennel, and Garlic

I don't have a meatball recipe, surprise, surprise. Just a general idea. And it starts with really nicely ground pork, a splash of heavy cream, a bit of panko just to keep things loose, a dose of garlic, and whatever herbs happen to be growing in the garden. Salt, I generally do to the ratio of a teaspoon per pound of meat. If you're ever unsure about how your meatball mix is going to taste, cook a little bit and taste it and re-season as necessary.

If you look very closely at the photo below, you will see that the meatballs are just barely pressed together. For best texture, that's all you want to do, just bring them together as gently as possible. The proteins will bind the meatballs as they cook. If you cram them together, you risk a tough meatball and a tough meatball is a rookie mistake. You're not a rookie are you?

Ready for Sauce
For sauce, I generally do a blender marinara: put tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and basil in a blender and whir it for a couple of seconds. Et voilà! In this case, when I opened the cans of tomatoes, they had already been blitzed so I just dumped everything on top of the meatballs, covered the whole in aluminum foil, and put it in a 300 degree oven for a long while. With meatballs, as in cooking all forcemeats and charcuterie, lower and slower is better. You will end up with a much more tender and succulent product.

I have no idea how long the meatballs were in the oven for mid-afternoon, Jen and Dewi called quite unexpectedly and said they were on their way back with the Dobies from a dog show in Pennsylvania and asked if they could stop in. Of course they could stop in; we hadn't seen them in months! They arrived about an hour later and we took all four of the dogs to the basement and let them romp. It was funny to see Grace, our "big" dog, and usually the aggressor, having the tables turned on her by the big Dobies, Austin and Pepper. And then it was hilarious to see our little guy Charlie giving both the Dobies what for when they tried to mess with him.

Anyway, after a long while of watching the dogs romp and trying to keep them from knocking over our glasses of red wine, we went upstairs to the delightful smells of meatballs slowly braising in marinara, whereupon I put on a pot of water, cooked the fettucine, and we all sat down to an impromptu dinner.

Fettucine, Meatball Marinara, Pecorino Romano

Yeah, They Were Delicious!

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