Home-Ground Meat Series, Post #3
All that ground up beef need to go somewhere and I debated what to make and what to make.
There is a time restraint on this and I have to be someplace else as quickly as possible.
I finally decided on good old spaghetti and meatballs.
I *love* spaghetti and meatballs: the play of long noodles against the round (or rather, round-ish), the tang and sweetness of tomatoes against the beefiness of the meatballs, and the al dente bite of the noodles against the soft give of the meatballs. Thing is, if I get all of the components of the dish right, the sum is greater than its parts and everything in the world is just heavenly.
And if I don't get everything right, well, all is still well in the land. Spaghetti and meatballs is a very forgiving dish.
I figure I should really buckle down and get everything measured so I can plod along semi-scientifically in search of perfection (3 cheers to Heston Blumenthal). One of these days perhaps.
In the meantime, I could never make this same dish twice. There's always something different when I make spaghetti and meatballs. Sometimes it turns out better, sometimes it doesn't. But hey, as I said, it is a very forgiving dish and it is very hard to mess it up and render it inedible.
I start with bread. For 2 pounds of ground beef, I usually go with 4 slices of sandwich bread and soak it with milk. Sometimes, we would have leftover French bread and I'll use that instead. This time, we had leftover foccacia from our maltagliati meal, so that's what went in. Other people use breadcrumbs and that is also perfectly acceptable: I've just never tried it since we don't buy breadcrumbs and I do not see why I have to go to another step of turning the bread into crumbs. If I were Heston Blumenthal perhaps, but I'm not.
I mince an onion (usually by food processor) and add it to the meatball mix. The onions, along with the bread, make the meatballs softer. If there are no bread and onions, the meatballs become dense, solid, and hard.
To lighten the meatballs further, I usually add 2 big tablespoons of yogurt. Lemon zest is optional and sometimes I opt out of the lemon zest.
Add herbs. For my meatballs, I usually go for oregano, thyme, rosemary, and flat-leaf parsley. The herbs are of course optional, but they do add a lot of flavour to the balls. Any of the herbs, in various combinations, work in this context. If I have fresh basil, I would also chop up some basil leaves and add it to the meatball mix.
If I have some grated parmiggiano in the fridge, I usually throw it into the mix. If not, then I would most likely forego the parmiggiano.
Add one egg, mix together with hands, and form into balls. How big the balls you want to be is up to you. I usually like mine fairly large, about an inch and a half in diameter. That way, it will look nice plated on top of spaghetti.
After forming the meatballs, there's two schools of thought. The first advocate browning the meatballs first before putting them into the sauce (or "gravy"). The second condone them being dropped naked and crust-less into the sauce. Personally, I perfer the meatballs to be browned first because it adds more flavour to the final dish. However, when time constraints and personal laziness get in the way, I will just dump the freshly-formed balls into the sauce. The risk of doing this is the meatballs would sometimes fall apart into the sauce. Browning them first gives them a bit of integrity and they go into their tomato bath less likely to disintegrate.
For the sauce, I do a simple tomato sauce.
Olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. I like onions in my sauce so I would usually mince 2 onions in the food processor and do half of it for the meatballs and half of it for the sauce. Saute the onions until soft. Add 3 cloves of garlic (I like mine garlicky). Add a grated carrot and saute. Two tablespoons of tomato paste and saute until dark red.
To this, I usually use two cans of whole tomatoes, juice and all. I suppose one can just do the tomatoes for a less watery, richer sauce and I'll try that next time, in my search for the perfect spaghetti and meatballs. I whirr the tomatoes in the food processor so I don't have to wait for them to break down in the sauce.
Add herbs, the same herbs as above, in any or various combinations you desire.
Once it boils, I add the meatballs to the pot. If I have a rind of parmiggiano sitting in my fridge, I would add the rind to the pot. If not, then I just fuh-gudd-about-it.
Oh, it goes without saying that everything needs to be seasoned to taste. Salt and pepper for the meatballs and the sauce and the sauce with the meatballs.
As this is one of my favourite meals, I'll keep making spaghetti and meatballs. In my own haphazard way, I'll be searching for perfection, tweaking here and there. I should start making notes.
How can one not love this?
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Home-Ground Meat Series, Post #3