Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spaghetti & Meatballs!

Spaghetti & Meatballs

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.  

Romaine Salad with Carrots, Celery, Kalamatas & Creamy Parmesan Vinaigrette
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Roasted Garlic Bread with Fresh Herbs
Chocolate Pots de Crème with Whipped Cream

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!

Romaine, Carrots, Celery, Kalamatas

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 :).

Some Parmesan Vinaigrette Ingredients

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!

Truly Sensational!

Cans of Crushed Tomato

Spaghetti Noodles

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.

Meatballs, Simmering in Sauce

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. 

Roasted Garlic

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. 

Sliced French Bread with Garlic-Herb Butter

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.

One Last Pot

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…

Chopped Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet chocolate…    Eggs…


… cream and sugar.  Nothing more and nothing less.  And nothing less than absolutely luscious!


Romaine Salad with Carrots, Celery, Kalamatas & Parmesan Vinaigrette
Serves  4
Romaine Salad with Carrots, Celery, Kalamatas & Parmesan Vinaigrette
For the vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbl whole grain mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup freshly and finely grated parmesan (grated to a powder-like consistency)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the rest of the salad:
2 hearts romaine, washed, dried and roughly chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and thinly sliced cross-wise
2 stalks celery, washed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
about 20 kalamata olives
about 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan (grated on the small holes of a box grater)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the vinaigrette: Combine the garlic, yolk and mustard in the bowl of an electric food processor.  Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the Worcestershire and lemon juice and process again until smooth.  With the food processor running, very slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube, adding only a few drops at a time and allowing the oil to incorporate fully and thicken the sauce.  Add the grated Parmesan and give a few long pulses to combine. 
This can be kept refrigerated in an air-tight container for about 2 days.  Keep in mind though, the texture is best around room temperature.  Cooling the dressing will thicken it.  But this can be fixed by whisking in a small amount of water (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup). 
For the rest of the salad:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the romaine with the sliced carrots, celery and kalamata olives.  Add enough dressing to coat it well.  (You won’t need to use it all.)  Toss well to coat, then add the grated parmesan and season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.  Transfer to a platter or serving plates.  Serve immediately. 


Spaghetti & Meatballs
Serves  4 to 6
A Big Bowlful
For the meatballs:
1 1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (from about 6 slices, crusts removed)
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1 tsp dry oregano, crumbled
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 pound ground beef  (80% lean)
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup freshly and finely grated parmesan cheese (grated to a powder-like consistency)
2 large eggs, beaten
about 1 Tbl kosher salt
about 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil, for cooking
For the spaghetti & spaghetti sauce:
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbl butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 small garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup dry red wine (By dry, I just mean not sweet.  Any tasty red will do.)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 Tbl finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound spaghetti (I’m newly in love with this grocery store brand. Choose the thicker #12
   spaghetti, not the thinner #11. )
about 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (grated on the small holes of a box grater), for
     passing at the table 
For the meatballs:  In a small mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs (which can be made by pulsing cubes of white bread in an electric food processor), garlic, oregano, nutmeg and
buttermilk.  Stir to combine. 
Ground Pork & Ground Beef
Through the rest of the steps, remember to handle the ground meats very gently – It’s the best thing you can do to insure tender meatballs.  Combine the ground beef and pork in a large mixing bowl.  Evenly sprinkle the parsley, parmesan and bread-buttermilk mixture over the ground meets.  Add the beaten eggs and season evenly with the salt and pepper.  Combine all the ingredients, very gently, using your fingers. 
Using your hands, gently form the mixture into about sixteen 2-inch wide meatballs. 
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.  Add enough vegetable oil to
come 1/4-inch up the sides of the pan, then heat for an additional minute.  Decrease the heat to medium-low, and then, working in batches of 6 to 8 at a time, so as not to over-crowd the pan, carefully place the meatballs in the hot oil.  Brown them well on all sides, turning them every couple of minutes with a metal spatula.  This should take about 10 minutes per batch.  Transfer the browned meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. 
Browning the Meatballs
Discard the oil, keeping all those browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Add the 1 Tbl olive oil, the butter, and the chopped onions.  Season with a good dose of salt and pepper.  Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.  (The onions will quickly pick up a brown color from the drippings in the pan.  This is the key to a great sauce!)  Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute more.  Add the red wine and cook until nearly all the liquid evaporates, scraping up anything sticking to the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. 
Return the meatballs to the pan, nestling them in the sauce.  Simmer over the lowest heat for about 25 minutes, until cooked through.  Then add the parsley and stir to combine.  Taste the sauce and season as needed with salt and pepper. 
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Then drain in a colander.
Remove the meatballs from the pan and place them for just a few minutes onto a large plate or bowl.  Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to combine.  Then, using tongs, transfer equal portions of pasta to the serving bowls, arranging it in a mound in the center of the bowl.  Arrange the meatballs over the pasta, about 3 to 4 per bowl.  Sprinkle with a bit of grated parmesan, saving more to pass at the table.  Serve immediately. 
Roasted Garlic Bread with Fresh Herbs
Serves  4 to 6
Hot Garlic Bread!
1 whole head garlic (That’s an entire head, unpeeled, and un-broken apart.)
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1 Tbl very finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 Tbl very finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 tsp very finely chopped rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp very finely chopped thyme leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf French bread, sliced in half length-wise
Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Wrap the head of garlic in a sheet of foil, then place directly on the middle oven rack.  Roast until thoroughly tender and aromatic, about 50 minutes.  Remove the foil wrapping, then allow the garlic to cool to room temperature.
Slice the cooled head of garlic in half, cross-wise, so that the slice goes through each clove.  Using your hands, squeeze the garlic halves – the tender roasted flesh inside each clove will easily ooze out.  Place into the bowl of an electric stand mixer, discarding the papery head.  Add the butter to the roasted garlic and beat on medium-high, using the paddle attachment, until smooth, about 1 minute.  Scrape the paddle and  sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then add the parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.  Beat until smooth and combined, about 1 minute. 
Spread the herbed garlic-butter mixture evenly and liberally over the insides of the sliced French bread.  Place about 6 to 8 inches beneath the broiler, then broil until crispy and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Slice into 2-inch slices, and serve immediately.
Chocolate Pots de Crème with Whipped Cream
Serves  6
Pots of Chocolate
For the pots de crème:
1/4 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped, plus about 1/2 oz more for garnish
For the whipped cream:
1  cup heavy cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
For the pots de crème:  Pre-heat the oven to 325 F.  Arrange a rack in the bottom third position of the oven.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, to be later used as a water bath. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks, then set aside.
Pour the cream into a medium-sized saucepot, and bring to just a simmer over medium-high heat.  Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, whisking until melted and smooth.  Gradually whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or small pitcher.  Evenly divide the mixture between six soufflé dishes. 
Just Before Baking
Place a clean dish towel over the base of large roasting pan, then evenly arrange the filled soufflé dishes in the pan.  Place the roasting pan onto the oven rack, then pour boiling water into the pan, enough so that it rises about half-way up the soufflé dishes.  Bake until the tops are set but the centers still wiggle slightly when shaken, about 1 hour.  Remove the soufflé cups from the water, and let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes.  Then transfer, uncovered, to the refrigerator and chill until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.  After four hours, once the custards are completely chilled, you can cover them with plastic wrap. 
For the whipped cream:  Whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over).
To serve: Top each pot de crème with a dollop of whipped cream and about 1 teaspoon chocolate curls, which you can make by shaving a small chunk of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate with an ordinary vegetable peeler. 


  1. Oh Kate. I have been waiting for a pasta/meatball recipe from you!!! Thanks! I had the best pot de creme in Barcelona...can't wait to try yours!

  2. Dana, Dana, Dana! I'm so glad to finally deliver! In honor of your patience, I'm dedicating this spaghetti & meatball post to you, my friend :).

    And oh, Barcelona! I'd give anything to be eating pot de creme in Barcelona right now!

  3. HI Kate!! Once again, I am drooling. I have a question though. Since I'm a single gal and I have an addiction to freezing things for later eating pleasure, what's the best way to freeze the meatballs? After cooking or before cooking? Or maybe after being browned? Or should I just clear my calendar and eat them in one sitting?

  4. I love freezing things too! Especially soups - I always make tons of soup with the idea of freezing most of it for later!

    As far as freezing this dish, here's what I would recommend... Make up the whole thing - the meatballs, the sauce, the noodles. Eat some that night, then divide the rest into individual portion sized containers. Refridgerate all the containers overnight, then the next day, have one for left-overs and put the rest into the freezer for later left-overs. Now. the important thing is, the day before you want to eat one of these frozen meals, move a container from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. And then, just use the microwave to heat it up.

    It should turn out pretty close to perfect! Let me know :).