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Posts tagged ‘simple dinners’

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…?)

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good


No…really…this is nothing more and nothing less than a small pumpkin stuffed with everything good!  As it is the first day (FINALLY) of fall weather here (actual rain is falling as I type), I will take a brief break from my tomato and corn obsession.

I am not the first to plaster this recipe on a blog…and I certainly won’t be the last.  This is surely a recipe that will span the test of time…and on the interwebs, that is not something to take lightly.  Take Pinterest for example; it is chock-full of seasonal sweets that utilize cookie dough, a popular candy bar and for good measure, some marshmallow fluff (examples found here, here and here).  Admittedly, my sweet tooth prefers understated, almost savory desserts (I’m not calling myself objective here!) and while these recipes have a purpose (bake-sales, holiday parties, novelty, etc.), our grandmothers would not recognize them from their recipe repertoire.  They are trends.  They may, in fact, even taste good…but they are not staples and certainly not classics.  I’m sure many out there disagree with me and that is fine…as I firmly believe that it takes all kinds.  This recipe is a classic for so many reasons – it is more an idea than a recipe, it is flexible, it is seasonal and does not waste any bits, it can be made up of leftovers and pantry items or each ingredient bought for its specific purpose, it is cheap and can serve a crowd.  For these reasons and many more, it has a place in my recipe box.  A quick google search will prove this true for many others.

The recipe is available all over the web, however I’ve posted it here is taken directly from Dorie Greenspan‘s book Around My French Table.  This dish epitomizes a perfect change of seasons dish…still emphasizing the freshness of squash while the filling is casserole and stuffing all wrapped into one.  Serve it with a crisp salad lightly dressed earlier in the fall or with some seared chicken sausages when a chill in the air is familiar and calls for heartier meals.

  • 1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
  • About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • About 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment.

Cut the top off of the pumpkin and scrape any seeds and strings from the lid, do the same to the inside of the pumpkin.  Once it is cleaned to your satisfaction, liberally season the inside of the pumpkin with kosher salt and pepper, you can also drizzle a little bit of olive oil in there as well, but it doesn’t absolutely need it.  Place it on the parchment on the baking sheet.

Toss all the stuffing ingredients together in a bowl (bread, cheese, garlic, onion, bacon, and herbs).  I had some kale on hand, so I chopped it up and tossed that in as well.  Season the mixtures with fresh ground pepper and some additional salt being careful not to over-salt as the cheese and bacon are already a bit salty.

Pack the mixture into the pumpkin…make sure it is filled!  We ended up with enough stuffing for an entire additional casserole dish which we buttered before adding the stuffing.

Mix the cream together with the nutmeg and of course, season with salt and pepper and then pour it over the stuffing into the pumpkin.

The cream provides the majority of the moisture for the stuffing, so don’t skimp…but your stuffing should not be swimming in the cream either.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife.  It was so cute, I could hardly stand it!

 

Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.

When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully—it’s heavy, hot, and wobbly—bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you’ll bring to the table.

I cut wedges and plated it with a lightly dressed salad the included some microgreens from Trader Joe’s.

The stuffing itself is delicious, but with a scoop of the tender pumpkin flesh, it is *literally* a perfect fall dinner.  I’ve got so many ideas of what to stuff a little pumpkin with…sausage, wild rice, apples, linguiza, chestnuts, the list is endless!  What would you stuff your pumpkin with?

It is wonderfully chilly outside now, but I need to temper my excitement for fall as the forecast is calling for 90’s next week.  Look for yet another post containing corn or tomatoes…or both.

 

 

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