so i decided i was in the mood for italian food and sometimes when i get an idea in my head i can’t help but go a little crazy running with it. so in the four hours i had before dinner the other night, i made a cake with chocolate whipped cream, sauce, fresh pasta and meatballs. i guess i was “in the zone” lol. i will do a few posts for these recipes as i think it would be a bit overwhelming and difficult to search if i crammed it all into one so i will start with spaghetti and meatballs. at least the sauce and the meatballs. i will do a separate post for making fresh egg pasta (which is WONDERFUL and i highly recommend it if you’ve never tried it!!!).
i’ve made a lot of sauce and meatballs and the recipes below both stack up there pretty high. there are a few things i will change from the original recipes next time, so i will give you the “revised” versions that i will be using in the future. i have tweaked a few seasonings and changed the meat profile of the meatballs themselves from the original recipe (it was all beef in the original but i prefer a mix of pork, veal and beef). both of the original recipes came from Fabio’s Italian Kitchen which i am currently reading and cooking my way through. so far i highly recommend it, both for the recipes and the read itself. he is quite amusing and, having watched him when he was on Top Chef, I can “hear” him saying some of the things in this book which makes me smile. so if you are a fan of unpretentious italian food, you should check this book out for sure. there are a lot of basics along with some of his family’s recipes which are quite unique.
Basil and Garlic Tomato Sauce
(called “Fabio’s Tomato Sauce with Oil and Garlic” in his book)
this is not a really heavy sauce, which i like, and the freshness of the basil really comes through. the original recipe didn’t call for the italian seasoning, sugar or fennel but i feel that they make the flavor profile more of what i’m looking for when i want a red sauce with fresh pasta (and it goes great with fresh pasta). you could also add a sprinkling of crushed red pepper to give it a kick.
- 6 large cloves of garlic
- 8 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 28-oz can San Marzono tomatoes, whole and packed in their own juice
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 10 basil leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp italian seasoning
- 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp fennel seed, optional (i love fennel in sauce but if you aren’t a big fan just leave it out)
- peel and smash the garlic with the back of a large chefs knife
- place the garlic and 5 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the garlic from burning, for about 2 minutes or until the garlic is golden brown
- add the tomatoes, a tablespoon of kosher salt, 3 or 4 good grinds of black pepper, italian seasoning, sugar and fennel seed
- cook over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and is no longer watery
- add the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil and stir, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon (you could even stick in an immersion blender for a smoother sauce but i like it a bit chunky)
- cook until the oil turns red, then turn off the heat and add the basil at the very end
*this is for making the sauce alone. below, the meatballs will be cooked in the sauce, so prepare it in it’s entirety but leave the heat on if proceeding directly to cooking meatballs. you can also make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the fridge. heat it up when you’re ready to use it. i will most likely make a double batch of this next time as i would have like a bit more on hand since it is so yummy! you can also freeze portions of this for future use.
- 1 lb of meatloaf mix (this is veal, pork and ground beef), OR 1/3 pound each of ground veal, pork and beef
- 1 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup of breadcrumbs (use panko or homemade crumbs like i did by grinding a few pieces of stale italian bread in a food processor and toasting in the oven about 10 minutes on 325)
- 1 egg
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 small shallots or 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- fresh parsely, for garnish
- 10 bocconcini (very small balls of mozzerella, or cut fresh mozzerella into 1/2 inch cubes), optional- if you want a cheesy center in your meatballs!
- 1 recipe of basil and garlic tomato sauce
- place all ingredients, except the tomato sauce, parsley, oil and bocconcini, in a medium-sized bowl and mix thoroughly by hand until completely combined and the mixture is uniformly firm
- coat your hands in oil and form mixture into balls slightly bigger than golf balls. if “stuffing” your meatballs with mozzarella, work the meat around one ball of cheese at a time, completely encasing each so that it doesn’t leak out during cooking
- heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan over medium heat, if not already warm, and place the meatballs into the sauce.
- add enough water to allow the sauce to simmer and reduce while the meatballs cook but not so much that it becomes too liquidy (about 1/4 cup, but add more throughout cooking if the sauce is reducing too much). the meatballs will not be completely submerged- this is ok.
- cook for about 10 minutes on one side, turn each one over, and cook for another 10 minutes. spoon a bit of sauce over each one as they simmer.
- remove from sauce and let rest for 5 minutes
you could serve these meatballs with a ladle of sauce and some crusty bread as a meal in itself but i love the traditional spaghetti and meatballs so of course, spaghetti is necessary.
i will get into how to make fresh egg pasta in my next post but here are some tips worth noting in the meantime regarding cooking fresh or dried pasta and incorporating this dish together. it might seem pretty self-explanatory (cooking pasta) but to make it the best it can be there are some things you should make sure you do. i went a long time without doing some of these and, until i changed my ways, i didn’t know what i was missing!
- to get your pasta tasting great from the beginning you must liberally season your pasta water with salt. i will quote a favorite chef of mine, Anne Burrell, who says that your water should “smell like the ocean” before you put your pasta in. this is your only opportunity to season it from the inside out (unless of course you’ve prepared the pasta dough, in which case you should still season your water).
- when you are cooking pasta it is very important to stir it frequently! you must do this or your pasta will never cook evenly and will clump together. this is important with dry pasta but it is imperative with fresh pasta which, if left un-stirred, will result in a gummy mess.
- pasta should taste GOOD even before it has sauce on it! i never knew how good plain pasta could taste until i had followed the above tips, especially the salt one.
- after you cook your pasta, save the water and add a ladle of the starchy pasta water to whatever sauce you are serving to thin it down to your liking or to spread it out if you don’t have quite enough (if necessary)
- don’t follow the cooking time on packages of dried pasta. i begin checking mine for doneness about halfway through the recommended time. dried varieties should have a bit of uncooked pasta in the middle to be al dente
- pull your pasta a minute or two before it is done to your liking and finish it in your sauce. this is something you should do whenever you are preparing pasta and sauce. it really incorporates the flavors and textures of the dish
- fresh pasta will never be truly al dente and only takes a few minutes to cook