Last Sunday, I had a bunch of girlfriends over for big bowls of spaghetti and meatballs. It’s a recipe I’ve been honing for a long time, one that’s pretty, pretty perfect by now. And its a dish as great for a special occasion get-together, as it is for just-the-two-of-us week night dinners. Paired with a great salad, some truly delicious garlic bread, and an indulgent chocolate dessert, these lovely noodles make for a sensational dinner, one you’ll want to make, any opportunity you get.
I served the salad as a first course - a crisp, fresh start to the night. Large torn leaves of Romaine, snappy slices of pale green celery, plump and briny kalamata olives of an inky purple, and sweet orange coins of sliced carrot. All of it cloaked in a creamy vinaigrette with deep nutty Parmesan flavor, a kick of whole grain mustard, a bright a hit of lemon, a little bit of garlic and a small swig of zesty Worcestershire. Whipped together with an egg yolk and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, it resembled Caesar dressing in all but the anchovies. And this rich and velvety concoction of mine had loads more Parmesan than any ordinary Caesar too!
The recipe for this vinaigrette is indeed one of my own creations. But I must give credit where credit is due. And in all honestly, the inspiration for the salad came from a funny place – the Italian chain restaurant Carrabbas. Now I know this doesn’t seem very foodie of me, and I can’t help but write this a little sheepishly, but I seriously love that place! In the midst of a parking lot sea of mediocre (at best) chain restaurants, Carrabbas is a true gem. Anyways, this salad of mine tonight was my best approximation of Carrabbas’ house salad, from the creamy Parmesan vinaigrette right down to the last purple olive. My aim was to make a dressing as similar as possible to theirs, and I’ve got to say, it was spot on! Maybe even better :).
Okay now, it’s spaghetti time! Spaghetti and meatballs! Classic, iconic, and stupendously delicious. A high, loopy pile of pale yellow noodles, enveloped in a gorgeous deep red sauce, with a smattering of delicate parmesan shavings, a meek sprinkling of green parsley, and last but not least, meat balls – fragrant, herb-specked and immensely plump. Tender, juicy, and obviously so, just from the look of ‘em. What a truly sensational plate of food!
It’s a toss up, where exactly to start, but I think I’ll fill you in first on the meat balls before moving in turn to the sauce. Because these monstrous spheres of tender, juicy meat just beg to go first. So here we go! I start with a half-and-half combination of ground pork and extra-fatty ground beef. (Fat is the key here, and my special trick. Use anything leaner than 80%, and your asking for trouble in the form of tough, dry meatballs.) This ground meat duo is bound together with fresh white bread crumbs and a dose of tangy buttermilk, then infused with robust flavors – garlic, oregano, nutmeg, parsley and Parmesan. Deeply browned in oil, then nestled into the simmering sauce to finish cooking. What happens then is a gorgeous symbiosis - the meatballs absorbing the bright, tangy flavors of tomato and red wine, while imparting their own deeply flavored essence to the surrounding sauce. And I suppose that brings us full circle, to the other main component of this dish, the tomato sauce. A classic rendition, with onion and a pinch of dried oregano, some reduced red wine, then crushed, canned tomatoes. A fresh sprinkle of parsley at the end, and that’s all there is to it. Simple, classic, undoubtedly divine.
And speaking of divine… this garlic bread was heavenly too. The garlic was roasted whole, an entire head of it. Wrapped in foil and placed in a hot oven for nearly an hour, it emerges entirely transformed, with sweet, deep, earthy caramel flavor, and an incredible tenderness. Sliced in half, a gentle squeeze pushes the soft roasted garlic flesh out of its papery shells in a sublime ooze-like fashion.
The roasted garlic, spread on a great slice of bread, with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt – man oh man, what a treat! But that’s just an aside. Tonight, I blended this creamy garlic with some softened butter, then folded in fresh and fragrant herbs - thyme, parsley, oregano and rosemary. Generously spreading this over a sliced baguette, then toasting it under a broiler (and taking it out just in time - Phew! That was a close one!) makes for the best garlic bread imaginable. It’s the combination of the immensely deep yet surprisingly mellow garlic flavor, with the heady aroma of herbs, and the golden goodness of the toasty, butter soaked bread. It’s this combination of everything wonderful that really brings the idea of garlic bread to a whole new level.
And finally, finally… dessert. Chocolate pots de crème. Nothing more than a fancy twist on chocolate pudding. With a fluffy dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of chocolate curls.
Rich and thick and smooth as velvet, these chocolate custards are a decadent treat. But they’re simple as can be. Nothing more than four ingredients…
Bittersweet chocolate… Eggs…
… cream and sugar. Nothing more and nothing less. And nothing less than absolutely luscious!