Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meatballs ... and some pasta

We used to travel to New Jersey once or twice a year to visit my adoptive Mother. It wasn't Trenton or Newark, it was the beautiful rolling hills and streams and trees in Hunterdon County very close to Pennsylvania. The dirt there is different. It is gorgeous! That's why it's called the Garden State... but I digress.

Every now and then we had a chance to get out and sample some local cuisine. In a strip shopping center we found a jewel: Frank's. I hear there are places like Frank's all over New Jersey, Italian-American restaurants that are not what experts would call AUTHENTIC Italian but rather, a cuisine that has evolved over time from Italian immigrants using the ingredients available in America.  Frank's had everything you could want, but most impressive on the menu was anything involving Meatballs. During the past 10 years or so any time we sampled a meatball dish anywhere, it was judged as follows: "Are they as good as Frank's?"  So when I watched Ina Garten making spaghetti and meatballs on Barefoot Contessa with the simplest of ingredients, I had to try it.  By the way, I have made a resolution to try to be more like Ina Garten, she is ALWAYS smiling, frequently laughing and seems to genuinely appreciate the people and wonders around her.

Back to the meatballs Adapted from Ina Garten Back to Basics (this recipe makes 16 good sized meatballs)
1 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1c fresh bread crumbs
1/4 c dried bread crumbs
2T Italian parsley minced
1 egg beaten
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 tsp salt
1/2 t ground pepper
3/4 c warm water
Ina throws in 1/4 tsp nutmeg... WSH has issues with nutmeg.. that's all I'm sayin.

Mix it together with clean hands but handle it gently. Don't squish it through your fingers, just gently mix and fluff it. Form the meatballs and heat 1/4 in oil in a skillet. I used half olive oil and half canola for a higher smoke point. Cook them about ten minutes flipping over about halfway through. You want to brown the outside.,, not cook them through. When browned remove to a platter. Depending on the size of your skillet you most likely will need to do this in 2 batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
Once all meatballs are browned, pour off the excess oil but leave the brown bits in the pan. Add a little fresh olive oil to the pan and scrape up the bits. Then add the following:

1c onion diced (cook ten minutes) then add
1 1/2 tsp garlic minced (cook one minute do not brown)
1/2 c red wine (I used veal stock instead)
28 oz can of chopped, diced or pureed tomatoes
1 T chopped Italian parsley
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t pepper
* I added about 2 T tomato paste for body and a little sweetness

Place the browned meatballs in the sauce and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Heat water in a large pot and add salt, then cook your pasta of choice as the meatballs reach the end of cooking.
 I like to marry the pasta with the sauce in the sauce pan for a few minutes before serving. Reserve a cup of pasta cooking water in case you need to thin things out. I used Montebello Linguine and plated with a little extra parsley and some chopped basil leaves, also a sprinkling of parmesan.

Kind of a messy plating but we were hungry!  And the verdict? Are they as good as Franks? I am happy to say they are even better! That's a very good thing because as far as I know, there's nothing like Franks in the Atlanta area.
Happy Meatballing!
See you soon.

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