Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meatballs 5.0

After trying Molly's recipe for lamb meatballs, I decided to make the meatballs that Michael Amster-Burton suggested on their episode devoted to meatballs. Meatballs can be cooked in a variety of ways, most falling into one of two categories - 1. sear and cook the meatballs on the stove top (or finish them in the oven) or 2. slow cook them in a sauce on the stove top (no browning of the meat). These meatballs classically fall into category number two and I admit I was slightly hesitant as to how "good" they were going to turn out minus the sear. Never doubt the versatility of a meatball and particularly, the one you are about to feast your eyes on.

These decadent beauties are something else.  Somehow this recipe conjures up my inner Italian grandmother and the result is mouthwatering. Comfort food taken to a whole other level, these are some of the most flavorful meatballs I have ever made and tasted.  With Cafe Lago as your guide, it seems there's nothing you can conquer in the Italian kitchen of your dreams. Unlike the recipe's suggestion, I spooned this simple sauce and a few meatballs over baked spaghetti squash and a little elbow macaroni. Add this to your fall repertoire and break some hearts.

SPAGHETTI WITH CAFE LAGO MEATBALLS (featured by Michael Amster-Burton on Spilled Milk)

For sauce:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, finely chopped, with their juices
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, halved and peeled
1/2 tsp. table salt

For meatballs:
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup whole milk, or more if needed
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp. table salt
5 grinds black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large cloves garlic, pressed

To serve:
1 lb. dried spaghetti

To make the sauce, combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, onion halves, and salt in a large, wide pan, such as 5-quart Dutch oven. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a slow but steady simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the onion (or eat them, if desired). Using an immersion blender, process briefly to break up any chunks of tomato. (Alternatively, the back of a wooden spoon works, too.) The sauce will not be perfectly smooth, but its texture should be even.

While the sauce cooks, make the meatballs. Put the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl, and stir to moisten the crumbs evenly. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until the crumbs are swollen and thoroughly saturated.

Put the ground meats in a large bowl. Break them up into chunks. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs well with a fork. Add the garlic, and beat to mix. Pour into the bowl with the meat.

Using your hands, squeeze the milk from the bread crumbs, reserving the milk. Add the bread crumbs to the bowl with the meat.

Holding your hand in a claw shape (fingers separated, tensed, and slightly bent) and moving in a strong, quick stirring motion, mix the meats and their seasonings. When the mixture looks well combined, pick it up and turn it over in the bowl, and then mix some more. (Turning it over helps to ensure that no ingredient settles to the bottom and clumps there.) This stirring process should be fairly brief; do not work the meat until it smears on the side of the bowl. Chill until the sauce is ready.

When the sauce is ready, remove it from the heat, and keep it close at hand. Remove the meatball mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with the reserved milk, and then pinch off bits of the mixture and gently roll them into golf ball-size meatballs. Place the meatball in the pan of sauce. Repeat, arranging the meatballs in a single layer in the pan of sauce. Return the pan to the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink inside.

Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water. Drain, and transfer to a serving bowl. Spoon desired amount of sauce onto the pasta, leaving the meatballs in the pan, and toss well. Divide among plates, and top with meatballs and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Note: If possible, make the meatballs and sauce a day ahead, or even a few hours ahead, and chill until ready to use. Reheat gently on the stove top.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Cafe Lago is an Italian cafe in Seattle - their tag line is "pasta handmade each morning, pizza baked by apple wood fire each night". Sounds like my kinda place. Next time I'm in the Seattle area, I intend to check this place out!

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