If you’re tempted to skip  this post because spaghetti and meatballs are too pedestrian, don’t do it!   This was the best dinner I’ve cooked in weeks!   The first bite took me back to a small Italian trattoria where I had this dish years ago.  These meatballs are tender, moist, flavorful, and the tomato sauce (note: contains neither onion nor garlic) gets a lift from the addition of capers. It’s so simple  that you’ll be shocked at how flavorful it is! The recipe comes from the latest issue of Food and Wine, with small modifications that,  modesty aside,  worked quite well.  It was a perfect dinner-date recipe for Saturday night.  Uncork the chianti and let the music play

(adapted from Food and Wine, original recipe from Massimiliano Alajmo)

for the sauce:
1 can of whole, peeled tomatoes (28 oz)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs capers, drained and chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper

for the meatballs:
1/2 cup white bread, crust removed, roughly diced
3-5 Tbs milk
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 egg, beaten
8 pitted kalamata olives, diced
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano cheese
2 Tbs fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 tsp salt

Puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, add the capers and oregano.  Simmer for a couple more minutes, season with salt and pepper and keep warm while you prepare the meatballs.

Cover the bread with milk: soak it well.  Drain any excess and reserve the bread.  In a large bowl, mix both types of meat, add the softened bread, egg, olives, cheese, parsley, and salt.  Wet your hands with cold water and very gently form the mixture into 1.5 inch diameter meatballs.  You can prepare the meatballs  hours in advance.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or aluminum foil) and bake the meatballs in a 400F oven for 20 minutes, turning them once during baking.  Remove them from the oven, and transfer to the skillet with the tomato sauce.  Gently simmer the meatballs and sauce together for 10 to 15 minutes over gentle heat.

Meanwhile, boil some spaghetti, drain, place back in the pan and add some of the tomato sauce. Place back on top of the stove to heat pasta and sauce together for a couple of minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, add the meatballs, and serve with fresh Parmiggiano cheese.

(makes 15 meatballs, 3-4 servings, depending on who is eating…  😉


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: My modifications involved baking, instead of frying the meatballs, and simmering them in tomato sauce afterward.   This is my secret to great meatballs, without the harsh outer surface often associated with the fried version.   I’ve seen (and tried) recipes in which the meatballs are cooked in the sauce from beginning to end, but the   oven-roasting in my version intensifies their flavor and color.

I also increased the amount of black olives in the meatball mixture.  The original recipe called for two olives (!!!!).   Sorry, but two diced olives in a pound of meat doesn’t do it for us, Kalamata-lovers that we are.  Feel free to adapt to your own tastes.

Chef Alajmo has two other recipes that made my mouth water in this issue of Food and Wine: Risotto with Capers and Espresso, and Pappardelle with Smoked Butter and Herbs.  Makes me want to catch a plane to Italy and reserve a table for two at his restaurant, Le Calandre.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Korean-Style Pork with Cabbage Slaw

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Most couples have a song, we have a dish, … Beef Wellington.    It was the first special meal that we cooked together, and it’s the recipe that we remember when a festive mood strikes.   For something that’s surprisingly simple to put together (if you use commercial puff pastry), Beef Wellington is an elegant gastronomic statement.   The  rich combination of  mushroom duxelles and foie gras raises the most delicate cut of beef to culinary heaven.  Here’s a crucial piece of advice: use a meat thermometer to determine the cooking time, because overcooking will ruin this dish.

This year we  chose Beef Wellington for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner, served as Evelyn George used to do it in my husband’s favorite restaurant,  “The Carriage House” of South Bend, Indiana: with duchess potatoes and a wine reduction sauce.  Fresh asparagus completed the meal.

(adapted from many different sources)

4 beef tenderloin filets,  1.5 inch-thick
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper

for the mushroom duxelles
4 ounces mushrooms
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 T olive oil
1 T butter
salt and pepper
dash of nutmeg
1 T Madeira wine (or Sherry)

puff pastry (home-made or good quality store-bought)
slices of foie gras
egg wash (1 egg beaten slightly with 1 tsp water)

Heat oil on a large skillet until it starts to smoke, season the meat with salt and pepper, and sear the filets on both sides over high heat; 2 minutes per side. Reserve.

Prepare the duxelles: finely dice the mushrooms (preferably by hand)  and squeeze 1/4 cup portions at a time in a fine cloth (twist the cloth to tighten the squeeze) to release their bitter juices. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet, add the shallots and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the squeezed mushrooms, saute until fully cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and pepper, add the nutmeg,  Madeira wine,  and cook for a couple of minutes. Reserve.

Assemble the Wellingtons: roll out the puff pastry to enclose each individual piece of meat.  On the center of the pastry, add a slice of foie gras,  2 tablespoons of duxelles, and set the seared filet mignon on top. Enclose it in the pastry, with the seam facing up, then invert the whole package, so that the duxelle layer is on top.  Brush the surface of the wellingtons with egg wash, placing small cutouts of pastry as a decoration, if you wish. (Wellingtons can be assembled 6 hours in advance, keep refrigerated).

Cut some slits through the pastry, and place the packages in a 400F oven until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 125-130F for medium-rare – about twenty minutes (it will continue cooking a little more while it rests).  Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

(to print the recipe, click here)

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1/2 shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup veal stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 T butter, cold, in small pieces

Remove most of the fat in the pan that you used to sear the filets, leaving about 1/2 tablespoon.  Sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes, then add the red wine and deglaze the pan well.   Add the veal stock and boil gently until the sauce is reduced by half and slightly thickens.  Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter in pieces, a few at a time, swirling the pan over low heat.   The sauce will get a smooth shine from the emulsion with butter.  Remove from heat and serve alongside the Beef Wellingtons.   If necessary to re-heat, do it over very low flame.

(to print the recipe, click here)

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