Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs


It's been a very special week in the world of (G)astronomy. Thus the timing is right to share the dinner I made on the very ordinary Monday last March that I chose for my marriage proposal. It was a covert operation, so the meal couldn't be too extravagant--the shopping and cooking had to be done in a single day and be finished by 6:00 p.m. This was no easy task for a plodding cook like me. Nevertheless, I wanted to make something special. I started off with rosemary quick bread, a favorite from the early days of our relationship. For the entree, I settled on spaghetti and meatballs. I definitely wasn't going to trust just any cookbook for a recipe of such importance--it had to be America's Test Kitchen. As expected, the homemade tomato sauce was perfect, and the massive meatballs were delectable. I'd like to think that she would have said "yes" even if dinner hadn't been delicious, but I'll never know...

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Quick Tomato Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt
Cook the oil and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed and diced tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the basil and sugar, and season with salt to taste.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • 2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (to substitute normal milk, mix in 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice and let it stand for 5 minutes)
  • 3/4 pound (80% lean) ground beef
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 pound spaghetti
Cook spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. While the water is boiling, begin to prepare the meatballs. Remove and discard the crusts from the bread, then tear it into small pieces. Pour the buttermilk over the bread crumbs in a large bowl and use a fork to mash the mixture into a smooth paste.

Add the beef, pork, Parmesan, parsley, yolk, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to the mashed bread. Stir the mixture gently until combined and uniform. Gently form the mixture into about twelve 1.5 inch diameter meatballs.

Pour the oil into a large skillet until it measures a depth of 1/4 inch. Heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer and cook until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and discard the oil left in the skillet. Place the skillet with any browned bits over medium heat and add the tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce the heat to low and add the meatballs. Continue to simmer, turning the meatballs occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water, and return it to the pot. Stir in several large spoonfuls of the tomato sauce (without meatballs), and toss to coat. Divide the pasta among the individual bowls. Loosen the remaining sauce as needed with the reserved pasta cooking water, and top each bowl with the desired amount of sauce and several meatballs. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Substitutions: I couldn't find ground pork, so I just used a full pound of ground beef. I also ended up using bucatini instead of spaghetti, because it was what we had on hand, and who doesn't like noodles that double as drinking straws!
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