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Posts tagged ‘tomatoes’

Italian Meatballs & Cavatappi


With record-breaking snowstorms back east, and some 35ºF mornings here…I’ve been in the mood for comfort food.  Spaghetti and meatballs has not been a go-to meal for me…probably because I don’t like spaghetti.  This, in and of itself seems silly…since pasta is pasta…but shapes make a rather large difference.

My problems with spaghetti start with the messy factor…I would like the sauce in my mouth and not splattered on my chin.  Also…I think the pasta shape should mirror the shape of whatever else is in the dish…and meatballs do not look like spaghetti.  Then there’s the fork issue…it seems like eating spaghetti with a fork should come with instructions like using chopsticks in a japanese restaurant – step 1: take a deep breath and prepare to stab your fork into the pile of innocent long thin noodles; step 2: Twist fork in circles with tines braced against the bottom of the dish until an appropriate bite-size amount of noodles are twirled around; step 3: Lift fork without noodles sliding, falling or unraveling off of the fork and insert into mouth; step 4: chew spaghetti and meatball bite and savor each delicious morsel…oh wait…you forgot the meatball.  See?  It’s complicated.

Let me simplify.  Don’t use spaghetti when you are making spaghetti and meatballs!

I based this recipe loosely on Ina Garten’s Real Meatballs & Spaghetti from her Family Style cookbook.  I halved the recipe for the meatballs as I only had 1 lb. of ground beef in the house, but made the full recipe for the sauce.  I deem it a very successful recipe and know that it will become a favorite!  (just my humble opinion)  :)

Italian Meatballs & Cavatappi

Makes 10 golf-ball-size meatballs

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1½-2 tbsp of whole milk
¼ cup of minced onion
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 heavy tsp. of ketchup
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup of warm water
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 large shallot, chopped
1½ tsp. minced garlic
½ cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. of dried Italian herbs (like Penzey’s)
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsps. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Put the beef, breadcrumbs, parsley, parmesan, onion, garlic, ketchup into a bowl together.  Beat the egg and add the 1/4 cup of water and beat together a bit more.

Pour the egg/water mixture over the top of the beef et al., and mix together with your hands.  Mix gently and not for very long.  Overworking the mixture will cause the meatballs to be tough.  Once I get a sense of the consistency of the meat mixture, here’s where I decide how much of the milk I will add.  I used about 2 tablespoons of whole milk.  It’s a judgement call…not enough moisture or fat…and the meatballs will be dry…too much and they can fall apart or end up spongy.  Roll the mixture into balls…size is up to you…I went with golf-ball size…assuming two meatballs per person for portion size.

Heat olive and vegetable oil together in a pan on the stove top and place the meatballs in gently, making sure to not crowd them.  It’s better to cook them in batches than to squeeze them all in.  You want the meatballs to brown, not to steam.

Place the pan in the 400° oven for 25 minutes (less if they are smaller).  After 25 minutes, pull them out and give each meatball a turn, turn the oven up to 450° and then put them back in to brown a bit more for about 5 minutes.

Once browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.  Place the pan back on a burner…being highly aware that the pan is hotter than the sun…so don’t touch the handle!  I like to rest a hotpad on the handle as a reminder since I have a (small) history of burning myself when I ought to know better!

Now that you’ve got your pan back on the heat, pour in the tablespoon of olive oil and heat a bit before adding the chopped shallot and onion.  Cook until the onion and shallot are translucent, probably about 5 minutes.

Add in the minced garlic and cook for another minute or so.  While the onions were sautéing, I prepped my tomatoes.  I had a can of whole peeled tomatoes and I wanted them chopped…so I pull them out, gave them a rough chop, making sure not to lose any of their juice and put them back in the can, ready for use.

Next pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up all the delicious bits stuck on the pan from the meatballs and the onions.

Now it’s time to add the tomatoes and all of their liquid.

And it’s also time to add in the parsley, italian seasoning, salt and pepper and the dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Let the sauce come together for 10 minutes or so, before adding the meatballs back in and cooking for another 10-20 minutes.  The timing really depends on how quickly you want dinner on the table…as long as the meatballs are cooked through and warmed back up…you are good to go!

Serve over freshly cooked al dente cavatappi (we used De Cecco brand) and top with a sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan and some minced parsley.  This goes amazingly well with a buttery slice of garlic bread! Just saying!

Buon Appetito!

(but seriously…am I alone in my lack of love for spaghetti…?)

Fast & Fresh (no-cook) Tomato Sauce with Pasta


We are hitting the end of the summer produce season, and I am guessing that a few of you out there have already felt the first hints of fall with some crisp mornings, the sun setting a bit earlier and of course the changing of routines with the commencing of school and shifting away from the relaxed days of summer work.

I am in denial about this particular change of seasons and refuse to shift my culinary tastes quite yet.

The end of summer typically also means a surplus of a few items…the most famous of which are zucchini and of course, tomatoes!

This dish is the answer to an overabundance of tomatoes and a seeming under-abundance of time.

3-4 medium/large tomatoes (or equivalent of cherry tomatoes, roma’s etc.)
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch of fresh basil
½ tsp. dried oregano
2-3 tbsp.’s of olive oil (more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
1 package of fresh pasta (refrigerated – like Buitoni or similar brands)
parmesan cheese to garnish

  1. Chop tomatoes into roughly the same size chunks – I quartered the cherry tomatoes and used that as a size guide for cutting up the larger tomatoes.  Put all the chopped tomatoes into a bowl and include all the tomato juice and liquid that leaked out during the chopping.
  2. Chop or mince the garlic – the smaller the pieces, the more pungent the garlic flavor will be.
  3. Julienne the basil leaves, leaving a few whole for the final garnish.
  4. Add the basil, garlic and the dried oregano to the tomatoes and liberally salt and pepper the mixture.
  5. Drizzle the olive oil over the mixture and stir gently to combine and let the flavors start to marry.

Resist the urge to eat this by the spoonful!

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.  Once the pasta has drained, put it back into the pot and dump in the tomato mixture and mix the two together.  This is a good time to add a bit more olive oil and salt.  Remember to always season dishes as you are cooking, and taste it along the way.

Serve up the pasta into bowls and top with grated parmesan and a few leaves of basil.  A slice or two of crusty bread is a nice accompaniment to help sop up all the garlicky tomato essence.  This dish is best enjoyed al fresco even if you have to throw on a heavy sweater and long pants to keep warm!  :)

Do you have dishes that act as a protest to seasonal change?  A culinary equivalent of indian summer?  What are your favorite recipes to utilize all of those late summer vegetables that seem to grow exponentially quicker as the days of summer ween?

Chicken Gorgonzola Pasta Salad with Bacon


D’Amico & Sons!  Ring a bell…?  If so, you probably live in Minnesota or Florida or have flown through MSP airport and had enough time to wander around for a bite to eat…and if this is so…you know what I’m talking about.

I wasn’t always one for pasta salads.  They were always bland and drenched in oil and vinegar and seemed to be a dumping ground for canned and often ignored veggies.  My nightmare of a pasta salad involves tri-color spiral pasta with a bottle of italian dressing, some canned sliced olives and if we are lucky…a dice of red bell pepper.  If that’s the best thing you can think of to do with some pasta…perhaps you should consider take-out!

Now that I’ve seen the light…I know the potential that lies in a well-thought-out pasta salad.  Think big…you probably can’t go wrong!  Visiting my husband’s family in Minneapolis, I was treated to D’Amico and Sons, and have been recreating various menu items ever since!

The weather has started to turn truly into spring in most of the country and what better way to welcome it than with a totally cold dish of hearty pasta?

Fun Fact:  Add buttermilk to regular mayonnaise and POOF!  You get ranch dressing.  No, really…nothing additional needed, unless you want it to look like ranch dressing, then you could add some things…ya know…like…herbs.  That’s it.  That’s all.  We were shocked – it tastes just exactly like ranch.  After we got over this fun little piece of info…we got on with the cooking chopping and mixing.

All ingredients in our version are just a guess…so we have chicken, not-all-the-way-sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, bacon and gorgonzola dressing.

I know it looks a little like butter…but it is actually really delicious creamy gorgonzola!  The dressing is simple…a little mayo, buttermilk, crumbled gorgonzola, salt and pepper.

Oh yeah, you’ll also need some pasta of your choice…cooked extra al dente!  Add the various components to the bowl, pour dressing over the top and drizzle.  Be conservative at first with the dressing, each piece should have a nice coating…but not be drowning in dressing.  Mix it up…then add the spinach.

Lastly, scoop onto a plate…and top with your perfectly cooked bacon crumbles!

Enjoy!

Salade Niçoise


Salad.  The word is ripe with meanings.  Could be dessert, breakfast, a hearty meal, a light spring side, could be greens and a little dressing or contain nothing green at all…might be the whole meal or just a nibble to whet your appetite.  I’m a big fan of savory salads that have intention, I love a composed salad, have a sweet spot for any salad with a hit of protein, and of course…add olives to anything and I’m in!

A niçoise salad hits every mark and is easily made almost any time of year!

This recipe comes from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.  I first learned about this book via NPR and The Splendid Table with Lynn Rossetto Kasper who interviewed Dorie.  However, this salad hardly needs a recipe at all (but I posted it below).

We were inspired to make a niçoise after reading a Cook’s Illustrated review of canned tuna focusing not only on taste but also on sustainability and ethics of the company.  American Tuna came out on top…and when we spotted it while grocery shopping…we knew just what we would be making with it.

The tuna is worth the additional cost and the quality is outstanding.

Recipe (courtesy of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan)

8-12 small potatoes, scrubbed
2  5 to 6 oz. cans tuna packed in oil, drained
4 tomatoes, cut into chunks or 20 grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 lb. green beans, trimmed
4 hard-boiled eggs
about 20 Niçoise olives, pitted
2 tbsps. capers, drained and patted dry
8 anchovies, rinsed and patted dry (we skipped the anchovies)
4-6 handfuls of bibb lettuce
1 shallot, finely chopped
olive oil
light vinegar or lemon juice
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
salt and freshly ground pepper

Since it was just the two of us, we halved the recipe and the portions were very generous!

Start by cooking the potatoes in boiling and salted water.  You’ll want to cook the potatoes whole, they will hold their shape and look crisper for the salad.  Depending on the size, they should take between 10-15 minutes…and I would err on the shorter side.  You can test the doneness by piercing one of the potatoes with a paring knife.

We happen to have some hard-boiled eggs on hand from earlier in the week, but if they are not a standard in your fridge…go ahead and hard boil the eggs using your preferred method and make sure they have time to cool down before peeling and quartering them.  Depending on the size of tomato you use, quarter or half the tomatoes.

The green beans need only a very quick blanch in salted boiling water and a quick cool-off in some ice water.  Once you have all your ingredients ready to go – it’s time to pull it all together.  Mix up the dressing…a little olive oil, shallots and vinegar seasoned with salt and pepper.

Toss the lettuce with the dressing and pile high on the plate and then top with all the fixings…in whatever fashion grabs you in the moment.  Open a lovely crisp bottle of white wine to cut through the oil of the tuna, olives and anchovies and the salt of the capers and olives and you’ve got dinner on the table!

Bon Appétit!

Summer Colds & T’mater’s


Summer colds.  I’ve got nothing good to say about them.

Let’s move on, shall we!?!  Let’s talk TOMATOES!

This is what is growing on my back patio as we speak…soaking in the sunshine and the heat of the day and always asking for a little more water at the end of the day with slightly droopy leaves.  Actually, the tomato plants look about how I feel after a full day of work…droopy, tired and like they could use a stiff cold drink!  Ha!

I can hardly contain my excitement for these guys as they’ve grown throughout the summer.  I look upon them lovingly and fiercely scold Cleo when I see her sniffing and about to mouth a delicious adolescent tomato who still needs a few more weeks on the vine to fulfill its full potential.

These are MY first tomato plants and about a week after planting them, I realized and remembered one of the great joys of summer.  The smell of tomato plants.  Not tomatoes.  The smell that is left on your hands after you reach in and fondle the branches for them to be supported by the tomato cage.  It is distinctly summer.  A smell not available at other times of the year.  A smell that cannot be recreated.  It takes me back to digging in the garden as a child and eating carrots straight from the ground, and learning about where food comes from.

Simple pleasures of summer!

What are your quintessential summer foods or smells?  What takes you back?

Peach Caprese with Arugula


Simple is better!

Start with peaches,  *juicy, ripe* peaches.

Layer with *juicy, ripe* tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

Top with fresh arugula and drizzle with olive oil and good balsamic vinegar!

Most important part:  Enjoy on the porch with iced gin and tonics during the evening hours with someone you love…or at least someone who you don’t mind too much.

Done!

Dinner Last Week…Caprese and Sautéed Squash


Our first caprese of the summer…it’s the beginning.  The tomatoes still have a little way to go.  Ya know, before they are irresistible, and smell almost better than they taste…and you can’t help but think of 10 million different ideas of how to use them.  We bulked out the plate with some sautéed summer squash…also my favorite.  Slice thinly, add a little butter of olive oil into a hot pan, toss them in, brown them up and then add in just a bit of dill…or summer savory…or basil and oregano…or anything.

Eaten on the deck…it was a perfect summer dinner!

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