Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I remember having a blast at the Old Spaghetti Factory as a kid with my then-best-friend and her family. We used to get the spaghetti and meatballs with a Shirley Temple chaser. A couple of kids thinking they were so cool. Ahhh, good times. Somewhere along the path of growing up, meatballs fell out of favor. But then, several foods from my youth just doesn't have the same appeal now. But I still have the fond memories and you know what they say, you can't go home again.

The Mister still loves pasta and meatballs. Frozen store-bought meatballs are a common thing in the freezer although he doesn't make them much anymore. Having a ready supply of
bolognese sauce doesn't help the meatballs' case either. But maybe store-bought has been the problem all along. Maybe my eschew to bland clumps of dry meat has given meatballs an unfair reputation. And with Anne Burrell's help, maybe I can go home again, at least just to visit for a short while.

Linguine and Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

You can find Burrell's recipe here. Fair warning, she likes to use a lot of salt, I mean *a lot* of salt. I'm a salt-aholic but even her proportions are a bit much for me. I recommend starting with what you're comfortable with and then increase as you see fit.

I couldn't find any ground veal and wasn't in the mood to grind my own. So I decided to make ground beef and ground pork meatballs. I used a 2:1 ratio of ground beef to ground pork, yielding the 1 1/2 lb of meat that the recipe calls for. (BTW, to the person who commented on the recipe that her family doesn't eat pork or beef and made it with turkey and veal, you might want to look up what veal is before you make anymore meatballs.) Other than the meat changes, I pretty much followed the recipe. The size of the meatballs were a bit larger than golf balls and yielded 22 meatballs. Here are the ingredients that I used.

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
Pinch crushed red pepper
1 lb ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmigiano
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup water

The onions are cooked in olive oil until very soft and aromatic, then garlic and pepper flakes followed. I knew when the onions were done cooking that there was a tad too much but I added it all to the meat mixture anyway (building the baseline). I even used a medium sized onion but maybe Burrell and I have different perspectives of what a large onion is.

When browning the meatballs in the pan, the surface onions were falling off the meatballs, which required removal after each batch. I didn't roll the meatballs tight, just enough to give shape and they would hold together. So maybe some of the surface onions didn't adhere as well.

It didn't take long to brown the meatballs since the purpose is just to brown and not to cook them all the way through. So don't worry if parts of the meatballs are still pink. The oven will take care of the final cooking. Keeping the pan lubed with olive oil will help keep the meatballs from sticking. If they do stick, don't try to move them. Once they are sufficiently browned on the bottom, they will release on their own. A little trick I found that helps prevent meatballs from sticking is to shake the pan back and forth as I'm adding the raw meatballs. This will coat the meatballs in oil.

Once browned, the meatballs go into a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes. My meatballs were on the smaller side, so I checked them at 12 minutes and they were done. Here they are out of the oven. The whole house will smell amazing at this point!

I also decided to make Burrell's marinara sauce since I'm sure her sauce is suppose to match well with the meatballs. I used thick cut smoked bacon since I still can't find a source close to home that carries pancetta. The other thing I changed was using crushed tomatoes instead of canned Italian plum tomatoes. I don't have a food mill and really didn't want to go through all that hassle. I thought the marinara sauce turned out pretty good but was a bit on the acidic side. I added a pat of butter, which help reduced the acidity a bit.

Funny thing I noticed is that although we have frozen meatballs as a stock item, we didn't have spaghetti on hand. So linguine it was. Here's a close-up of the final dish.

So did I go home? Did I travel back to the giddiness of sipping cherry sweetened nectar of youth? Not quite but it was pretty good. I think I need to adjust the meatballs more to my liking. They were tender and very flavorful but the taste is not quite where I would like it. Things that I would adjust are: amounts of onions, salt, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. I think I'd also like to try to cook some tomato paste with the onions the next go around to give it more depth. And if I ever can find a good source for ground veal, I'd add that too. I'll report back the results, of course.

The recipe made more meatballs than what we could eat that night but leftovers, including the marinara sauce, made for good meatball sandwiches the next night (post to come). Extra meatballs can be frozen for later use, too.

On a side note, Anne Burrell's Secret of a Restaurant Chef has been the only new show on Food Network's new line-up that I found enjoyable. Maybe it's her quirkiness and wiggly style but I think it's more of her approach to food that appeals to me. Hopefully she'll provide some much needed inspiration for some new dishes (with my own adjustments, of course).


Anonymous said...

I love the factory! Too bad the one in gaslamp closed.

I am going to make the chicken in a pot this weekend. think the kids will like that one with mash potato


Barefoot Plumies said...

Hi Sherri! The Old Spaghetti Factory is coming back to the Gaslamp. Here's the press release:

I hope you and kids like the chicken.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous! I'm going to take the kids there when they reopen.


Sawyer said...

spaghetti looks sooo goood right now. i might have to have some for lunch!

Barefoot Plumies said...

Thanks, Sawyer! I also purchases a loaf of sourdough baguette from Panera that we had with it. It was so good.