Every so often, a day comes along where the weather is so perfect. And if you’re schedule permits, you get to enjoy this day the way beautiful fall days should be enjoyed.
That was yesterday. I had a quick latte to start the day off while I watched my stories (aka Regis & Kelly - can’t start a day at home without them. Won’t.) and then headed out on my bike to the grocery store. It was threatening rain when I left the house but as though the weather God’s knew I wasn’t prepared, the clouds parted and let the sun shine through for just a little while.
You know those moments that are so perfect, so heart-stoppingly beautiful, that you wish you could freeze them in time, stick them in a box, and look at them whenever you were having a less-than-perfect day? Again, that was yesterday. Halfway to the store, as I was zipping down 2nd Ave, the air was cool and the sun was shining bright on my back, hefty gusts of wind took the leaves from their summer homes on the trees and exploded them into orange confetti, and the air smelled of thick smoke from someone burning a fire nearby. I slowed my biked to a snails pace so I could soak myself in every single second of it. From that moment on, my day was made. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.
I had my heart set on spaghetti as I headed in the direction of the grocery store. There was no denying myself that. It just felt like a good day to be twisting and slurping noodles with a movie on and a glass of wine to accompany. And what’s more classic than a few big, tender meatballs in marinara piled high atop a bowl of tangled noodles? Answer: nothing. Don’t try and argue with me on this one. Not up for debate. I won’t have it!
The rest of the day, though the weather took a turn for the rainiest, I busied myself making meatballs and sauce. And I did so with the biggest of smiles and a warm heart. But that could have been from the wine. Come to think of it, it was probably the wine.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
adapted from Ina Garten
It’s vital to the tenderness of a meatball that you be gentle when mixing and forming. Do these steps with tender love and care and I promise you will come out with a soft, flavourful meatball.
1 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices of white bread, crusts removed an processed)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten lightly
3/4 cup warm water
Combine all ingredients except for oil and blend, very gently, with a fork until combined.
In a large, heavy pan, add enough oil to reach a depth of about 1/4” and heat over medium-high until shiny.
While oil is heating, very gently roll the meat mixture into balls just bigger than a golf ball. You want them to be big but not massive. Put the meatballs into the oil, about 5-6 at a time, and let them brown on all sides, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer them to a dish until you’ve finished. Set aside. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pot.
adapted from Ina Garten
I used whole plum tomatoes for the sauce, which was fine, but having a picky eater in the house meant I needed to puree. So I left the original recipe’s suggestion of crushed tomatoes for those who like it smooooth.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 cup good red wine
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2lbs spaghetti, cooked to al dente accordingly to package instructions
Good quality olive oil
In the same pot as you browned the meatballs, drizzle with a little oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine and turn the heat up to high. Cook, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until wine has almost reduced completely. Add the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper. Add the meatballs to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30-40 minutes until sauce has thickened slightly and meatballs are cooked through.
Serve over spaghetti with a sprinkle of Parmesan and a drizzle of your best olive oil.
(and to answer your question, YES, I DO love Parmesan. A LOT. And I won’t apologize for it.)
I know what you’re thinking. What in the name of holy hell is this maniac doing standing over a hot stove for 6 hours in this heat? Perhaps she dipped into the Chardonnay a little too early in the day [and really, what would be so terrible about that?] While often that would ring true, it wasn’t the case this time. It was a recipe I tried a few months back and didn’t post until now. So it’s not that I’m crazy… I’m just lazy. Which is so much better, right? Right?
This dish is everything a Sunday dinner should be. You get up, go to the market, spend hours working on it and reap the rewards when that first bite, dripping with rich, brown, meaty flavour hits your tongue. It’s the exact sort of dinner I crave, not only to eat but to cook, when I have days to myself. Even if you’re not totally gung-ho on spending 6 hours in front of a stove… I do so hope you’ll give this a go on a crisp day in November. There is nothing like it to warm the soul.
I happened to make it on a day when Allan wasn’t home. So I ate it alone. A LOT of it. And I can’t say that I enjoyed it any less. It makes incredible leftovers, and freezes perfectly. We enjoyed a lasagna bolognese later in the month…and I highly recommend you try the same. Just replace your regular meat sauce with this.
I got this recipe from chef Ann Burrell of The Food Network. Her recipes, much like her, are always big and bold and full of deep, layered flavour.
adapted from Chef Anne Burrell
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery
3 large cloves of garlic, rough chopped
Olive oil, enough to coat your pot/pan
3lbs lean ground beef [I used chuck and round]
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups full-bodied red wine [I used a shiraz/cab]
Water, whatever you use to drink is fine.
Couple bay leaves
1 bunch of Thyme
1lbs (approx) spaghetti, spaghettini, linguine
1/2C-1C fresh grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
Good finishing olive oil (optional)
Start by pureeing the carrot, onion, garlic, and celery in a food processor until it becomes a paste a little thicker than baby food. Heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan [like a dutch oven] over meadium-high heat. Once the oil has started to ripple, add in the vegetable paste and a few generous pinches of coarse salt and stir frequently until all the liquid from the vegetables is gone. Be patient with this step as it’s important to the overall flavour of the sauce. You want it to be fairly browned before you move on to your next step. This should take about 20 minutes.
Add the ground beef and season again with a few pinches of salt. Stir and break up the meat and then let it cook for another 15-20 minutes, stirring every so often. This is another chance to get really brown (rich) flavour in your sauce.
Add the tomato paste and stir for a bout 5 minutes until it has brown slightly with the rest of the veggies/meat. Add the red wine and stir, scrapping any stuck on bits from the bottom of the pan, until the wine has reduced by about half. It should take about another 5 minutes for this to happen.
Add the bay leaves and thyme to the pot. Add water to the pan until it reaches 1 inch above the meat. Give everything a good stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally.
You will need to add roughly 3 more cups of water throughout the cooking process (3.5-4 hours). DO NOT add all the water at once unless you want a boiled meat sauce. Add 1/2 - 1C water at a time and just until it’s slightly above the meat line. Be sure to reduce the water until very little is left before you add more. This really helps develop the flavours. Taste often and SEASON WITH SALT!!! It will more than likely need more salt as it cooks.
When you have about 30 more minutes of cooking time, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season well with salt (it should taste like the ocean!). Add your pasta and cook until it has slightly more bite than al dente. Spaghetti should take about 6-7 minutes. Reserve 1/2C of the pasta water before you strain it.
Remove half the sauce and reserve (let cool and freeze, this will be your leftover sauce).
Add the pasta to the remaining sauce until it’s a 1:1 (pasta:sauce) ratio. Add the 1/2C of reserved pasta water and cook over medium heat until the water has reduced. Add your Parmesan and a drizzle of god olive oil to finish.
This sauce deserves to be served with a damned good bottle of wine. And some really awesome people to share it with. After all, food always tastes better that way!