Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Spaghetti & Meatballs

What is more classic Italian-American than Spaghetti and Meatballs? When I need a little comfort after a long day, this is the kind of dish that I prepare. You don’t need a strict recipe and can usually find what you need in your cupboard. If not, you can alter the recipe and it still usually comes out well.

Growing up, my great aunt would make spaghetti and what she called “gravy” (like most good Italian-Americans did.) She served it along with a steaming bowl of braciole, meatballs, ribs and sausages that had cooked slowly in the sauce. With a heavy dose of grated cheese, we were set to eat a messy bowl of whatever meat we picked out of the bowl with long, metal tongs. All talk would stop and the sound of forks twisting long strands of spaghetti on spoons would begin.

Healthy? No. Delicious? Always. While I never saw anything like it served in northern Italy, it reminds me of home.

I don’t follow a recipe, but this Food Network one looks good. Last night, I used a mixture of ground pork, beef and veal. I added eggs, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, crushed red pepper, dried oregano and dried basil. I cooked them on the stovetop in a cast iron pot, turning them carefully with two spoons as they cooked on their sides.

I made a few changes based on what I had available:
I used Japanese panko breadcrumbs since I didn’t have any regular ones. I would have preferred onion or garlic, fresh basil and fresh oregano, but I was also out of that. Finally, I served them with linguine instead of spaghetti, since that’s what we had. (We are moving soon and I’m working hard to finish what we have in our pantry!)

Some tips:
Like the Food Network recipe suggests, my great aunt always says to soak the bread crumbs in milk first to soften them. (I’ve never done this mostly because I never have enough time.) I find that some meatballs in restaurants are too hard and this is because they don’t always use bread crumbs. (I’m allergic to corn syrup and this also means that most meatballs have corn syrup hidden in the bread crumbs.)

Don’t try to use meat that is too lean because then the balls will fall apart as you cook them (just like hamburgers do.) You can bake and drain your meatballs to make them a little healthier. You can reduce fat by not cooking them in the sauce. If you decide you like the taste of the sauce with the meatballs, then try making it in advance, refrigerating it and then easily skim the fat off the sauce.

I cook the pasta in whole, long strands. Some chefs like to break them in the middle so they better fit in the pot. If you put them whole into boiling water and quickly stir them down, then they will cook evenly. I think that short pieces of spaghetti are hard to eat because you can’t twirl them on your fork. (And twirling them on your fork is the best way to ensure that you find memories of the sauce on your shirt if you forget to tuck your napkin under your chin!)

After you drain the pasta, be sure to toss it with either a little olive oil or some of the liquid from the sauce. This will stop it from sticking together when you want seconds or you are ready to save it for leftovers.

Don’t forget to serve your dish with freshly grated cheese. I prefer a salty pecorino romano. I also like to add some extra crushed red pepper, but that depends on how spicy you like your dinner.

Enjoy! What are your tips for great meatballs?

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