April 27, 2009

"Real" Italian - Spaghetti and Meatballs

How tonight's dinner menu came about:

Matt: Do you not like Italian food?
Me: Of course I do.
Matt: Well, you never make it.
Me: Umm, I make pizza a lot.  
Matt: That doesn't count.
Me: I made lasagna last week!
Matt: That doesn't count.
Me: What do you mean, that doesn't count?
Matt: There was no red sauce on it. 
Me: There was a little.  Wait, does that mean you think food has to have red sauce to be Italian food?  Italian is only spaghetti and meatballs?  Why don't I make spaghetti and meatballs tonight?  
Matt: OK.
Me: Want to come to the store with me?
Matt: No thanks.
Me: OK,  you can do the dishes then.
Matt: OK.  (Note: I'm only including this part in case he forgets his promise) 

To clear things up, I have nothing against Italian food.  I really, really like it.  I've just had the privilege of eating some amazing Italian food, and instead of making me want to eat a lot of it, it has made me want to restrict my consumption of it to times when I know it will be awesome.  I think I've just come to terms with the fact that I could never make pasta like they do at Chicago's Spiaggia.  Nor will I ever cook Italian food like the mother of our Italian exchange student does.  Maybe the fact that while we were eating her pasta we were looking out their kitchen window at the Dolomites made it more heavenly.  Oh yeah, and she made my brother and I beef carpaccio as an appetizer one night.  My mom is an awesome cook, but not once has a meal at our house begun with beef carpaccio.  I mean, holy cow!  

So I decided to make some Italian food (read: spaghetti with red sauce) for once.  Instead of improv, I went with a trusted source: The Silver Spoon.  I more or less made their recipe for meatballs with rigatoni, and it was awesome. 

It started with about 1.5lbs of ground beef, parsley, 1 egg, and a clove of garlic.  I bought 93% lean beef thinking I didn't want greasy meatballs/sauce, but in hindsight I should have either bought fattier meat or let the meat brown for a shorter period of time.  It ended up a little on the dry side.  

Combine the meat, a couple tablespoons of parsley (or a spring of fresh parsley), and a chopped garlic clove.  

Mix in a lightly beaten egg, and then season with salt and pepper.  

Form into balls, and dust with flour.  

I made walnut-sized meatballs.  See?  And check out my new apron covered with little ladybugs.  And please don't judge my appearance.  It's the first day of finals.  

Warning: If you ask your boyfriend to turn off a burner because your hands are covered in raw meat, he might turn ON a different burner and then, completely oblivious, walk into the bathroom so you have to wash your hands and do it yourself anyway.  

You've been warned.

Here are the flour-dusted meatballs.  

Don't the look a little like balls of cookie dough?  I kind of wish these were.  And that they were coming out of the oven right now.  

Set the meatballs aside.  Add 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped celery stalk, and 1 chopped onion with a few tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over low heat.  I actually used 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, and 3/4 of an onion, but the actual recipe calls for the former amounts.  Oh, and add a sprig of rosemary, chopped. 

Cook over low for about 5 minutes.  

Turn the heat up to medium, and add the meatballs to the pan to brown them.  It would be helpful to first push some of the veggies to the sides of the pan so the meat can touch the surface and brown more easily.  I learned that the hard way.  Or I just don't think ahead sometimes, and I should have thought of that earlier.  

Here is the tomato sauce I used.  I don't know if you can tell in this picture, but it's one of the larger sized cans.  28 ounces?  

Once the meatballs have browned a little, add the tomato sauce.  Season with salt.  

Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for a while.  The recipe says 40 minutes, but I only waited about 20 - as long as it took for water to finally boil and for spaghetti to cook.  

This is after 15 or 20 minutes.  The smell was wonderful.  I almost said the "aroma" was wonderful, but it made me uncomfortable.  I don't think I can pull that word off.  

Blurry close-up.  Just what you were looking for, right?

Dinner.  Cena.  Bad picture, good food.  Thanks, Silver Spoon.  

And thanks in advance for the clean dishes, Matt!

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