Tonight I was all set to make a Cobb Salad. I was looking forward to crunchy romaine lettuce and crispy bacon – however, one of the key ingredients – avocado, was horribly under-ripe. I was so disappointed. I turned the avocado display upside-down looking for just one with some semblance of softness, but my efforts proved futile and I had to rethink the whole dinner plan. I went ahead and bought a couple of avocados and will use them for my craving later in the week, when they are nice and ripe. I bought lots of food to save me the agony of having to grocery shop again this week. I have to say that the weekly grind of having to buy groceries is not that much fun for me. I like buying food when it is a “day out”. When I announce to my daughter “let’s go shopping”, I don’t mean to the Mall. I want to peruse the aisles of the nearest gourmet supermarket and drool at the fish counter or get a sample of some runny blue cheese or buy a loaf of chocolate bread with cranberries no less (and eat it in the car on the way home). I want to dawdle in the International section and puzzle over all the mysterious colorful gelatinous jars in the Japanese section. I want to go home with my bags filled with anything from sea urchin to edible rice paper! Going to the local market to buy milk and toilet paper is a chore, not a passion. I run into people I don’t really want to talk to and everyone working there is usually eyeing the clock, ready to bolt as soon as their shift is over. Anyway….I grabbed some minced beef and a jar of marinara sauce (yes, a jar) and settled on spaghetti and meatballs – wow, how exciting. I will say that the meatballs are good and buying a jar of sauce does not really riddle me with guilt at this time of year. The tomatoes are dismally pale red and completely unexciting. I could have used a tin of tomatoes but the sauce I buy on these occasions works just as well as me trying to feel proud of the fact that I made the effort to make the sauce myself.
I buy Newman’s Own Marinara sauce – Mr. Newman was a decent man and so is his sauce. It is affordable and unpretentious, with a short list of ingredients – no looking up obscure additives or flavor enhancers on the internet to make sure it’s not going to slowly poison me to death! So, on to this evenings dinner shall we..It really doesn’t take very long as all you are really making are the meatballs. In the summer I make a very simple tomato sauce, but tonight using bought sauce afforded me some more time to potter in the kitchen with my family.
We watched “Roman Holiday” and my daughter was introduced to the actress she thought I called Audrey Head-Burn!
You will need : 1 1/2 lbs minced beef (or a mixture or lamb & beef), 1 medium onion, 1 egg, 2 or 3 slices of white sandwich bread, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp madras curry powder (optional), 1 1lb box spaghetti (I use Barilla), 2 cups of marinara sauce (bought or made, bought it for tonight, but usually make it in the summer or, when I feel like it), 1 cup white flour, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbs heavy cream (optional).
Preheat oven to 400* Dice onions and saute on medium to low heat in 1 to 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil until very soft (10/12 minutes). While onions are cooking crack egg into big bowl and add mince, salt, pepper and curry powder (even though it is great without, give the curry powder a try, it is good). Tear bread into a little bowl and pour about 1/2 cup milk over it. Press it down and let it soak for 5 or so minutes before squeezing out a little and adding to the meat. Note about the bread: I use bread the I would never actually buy to make a sandwich.
It is not some good Italian ciabatta or French baguette. It is what I call “plastic bread” It gets really gummy and works so well in the meatball mixture. You have to believe me. Freeze a loaf especially for meatballs (and then of course there is no waste). When onions are nice and soft add to meat and mix everything together. I do this with my hands – most effective, but feel free to be afraid to touch the meat you just bought and are going to eat, and use a spoon. When it is well mixed, put flour on a plate or in a wide bowl and form meatballs.
I usually add a little oil to my palms as I go (meat doesn’t stick as much) and form to the size of a ping-pong ball. Roll in flour and put on a big plate. Here is where things get a little different. I don’t really like frying the meatballs on a pan and then finishing them off in the sauce. I get a little tired of doing batches in a pan, waiting to turn them etc etc So….I experimenting with doing the entire job in the oven. Not only do I get to do all the meatballs at once, unattended (twice that amount can be done this way), I also end up with a lovely outside crust and a tender inside.
After the meatballs are formed, put a cooking /baking sheet in the hot oven with 2 tbs olive oil drizzled on it. Let it sit in the oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove it and place the meatballs on the sheet in a single layer. Let them cook for 14 minutes, take out, turn with a tongs and finish in oven for another 10 to 12 minutes. While the meatballs are cooking, put the water on for the pasta and cook according to package. Put big saute pan on low heat with marinara sauce and add 2 tbs heavy cream (optional but I think it adds softness and flavor to the tomatoes). Sometimes I mince some fresh rosemary or oregano into the sauce… When the meatballs are cooked, add to the sauce and add the spaghetti to the pan also.
Make sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water (1/2 cup or so) and add to the pasta sauce also. Serve with a salad or some sautéed greens.