The Ultimate Meatball and Taking Food to a Friend

meatball and marinara

We’ve been on the receiving end of food donations twice in our life and both times, we were touched by others’ thoughtfulness, great recipes and the comfort that was passed to us through the dishes they made.  It takes a bit of humbling to bring food to someone who can’t cook for themselves, or simply don’t want to or don’t have the time.  You worry if they’ll like what you made.  You worry if they will critique the preparation or that you brought store-bought cookies instead of homemade.  If I could only convince you that anything you bring is wonderful and welcome, I would.  If they can’t eat it right away or they have duplicates, they can freeze what you brought!  To worry too much about what to bring, or to worry the recipient about what you brought, shifts the focus off the deserving and on to you.  Keep the focus where it belongs, ask if they have any requests or food allergies, and get cooking!  Homemade is always nice, but I will admit, I did not turn away store-bought cookies, chocolate or coffee! 🙂

My wonderful, life-long friend, Summer, had her second baby almost two weeks ago.  A beautiful, darling girl!  I immediately began to think of what I would bring for Summer and Phil to eat.  Summer is my food buddy.  I trust her cooking as much as my own.  Her sense of taste is far beyond most people, almost to a fault.  We used to live together in college, and I think one of our first food-bonding moments was throwing chicken patties off the balcony of our apartment because they were just so disgusting.  They were pre-cooked, breaded chicken patties and they tasted like…gray.  Or sweat.  It wasn’t good.  We both were actually offended.  How could you screw up a breaded piece of chicken, and worse, sell it to poor college students?! In our act of defiance against badly cooked food, we became unofficial food critics in our own right.  We were each other’s taste-testers. A favorite game throughout our friendship is Guess the Ingredient! in which we excitedly wait while the other tastes and see if they guess right.  I love that no matter what time of day, I can text Summer a description of something I made or want to make, and she will react with an appropriate amount of shock, enthusiasm and awe.

We joke that Summer always says her FAVORITE thing in the ENTIRE world is whatever I last cooked for her.  True to the accusation, I asked if she had any requests for what I could bring for them, and she requested the last meal I made for her, which was the BEST meatball recipe I’ve ever run across.  It’s tough to get a meatball right.  They can be too dry or too mealy or rubbery from being over cooked, or simply too greasy.  This recipe is perfect.  And even more perfect, it came to me via fashion designer, Michael Kors in his appearance on Martha Stewart Living.  So they’re both delicious AND fashionable.  Win-win.

The secret ingredient to these meatballs is the water.  Smooshing all these ingredients together, especially with the water, is not for the faint of heart.  My mother would die a thousand deaths before making this recipe.  She has a thing with texture.  However, I like playing with my food, so it’s rather enjoyable for me.  The meat mixture is very delicate, so be gentle as you turn them while cooking.  I usually use two spatulas to help me turn them without smashing them apart.  Getting a good crust on each side is key.  Then, there will still be a slight crust, even after they’ve stewed in the sauce for a while.  Oh, and serving this with spaghetti is up to you. It’s not tradition – the Italians eat their meatballs in a bowl with crusty bread.  But, the recipe makes enough sauce that even after we finish up the meatballs, I have plenty of sauce left to toss with noodles the next day.  Olive absolutely adores these.  She ate two, 3 inch meatballs by herself before slowing down.  They are so soft, you could easily smash it up for a little one.  And they get better the next day!

meatball

Frankie’s Meatballs in Rao’s Marinara Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 cups water, room temperature
  • 1 cup olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine beef and pork using your hands. Mince 1/2 clove garlic and add to meat mixture along with the eggs, cheese, and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Continue mixing with your hand until well combined. Add bread crumbs and mix well. Add water, 1 cup at a time, and continue mixing until mixture is quite moist.
  2. Shape mixture into 2 1/2-to-3-inch balls. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Smash remaining clove of garlic with the back of a knife and add to skillet. Cook until lightly browned and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and discard. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet. Cook until browned and cooked through, turning, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
  3. Meanwhile, bring marinara sauce to a boil in a large nonreactive saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and add meatball. Let meatballs cook in sauce about 20 minutes; serve immediately with pasta, if desired.

Rao’s Marinara Sauce
Makes 7 cups

  • Four 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes with basil, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 leaves fresh basil, torn (optional)
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  1. Remove tomatoes from can and place in a large bowl, reserving juices. Crush tomatoes using your hands; remove and discard the hard core from stem end, and any skin and tough membrane; set aside. (Wear an apron and keep your hand submerged as you crush.  This is messy business, but kind of therapeutic  .)
  2. Place oil in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, and cook until soft and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juices; season with salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.
  3. Stir in basil, if using, oregano, and season with pepper; continue cooking 1 minute more. Remove from heat and serve.

*Recipes taken directly from Martha Stewart Living.  They can not be improved upon.

frankie's meatsauce

Italian Pot Roast on a Snowy Day

snow1

It’s a day to be a little quieter, more reflective, or maybe just be still.  It snowed last night more than it’s snowed in a few years and it’s still coming down outside.  The wind is crazy as it always is in Lubbock, TX, which makes the wind chill around negative ridiculous.  Matt is getting to work from home – one draw back of having a desk job is that on a snow day, you still have to work.  But at least it can be done from the comforts of home.  Hot cups of coffee and a sweet, bundled up baby in tow.  I had dreams of going to the grocery store today to stock up for another week of good meals, but I think I’ll just warm up the amazing pot roast we had last night, roast an acorn squash till it nearly burns and make do with what we have.  If you have any cut of meat in your freezer like a roast, pork loin, whole chicken, try this recipe.  Stay in out of the cold and just let the oven do the cooking today.

pot roast

Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine*
6 servings

Vegetable oil
4lbs boneless beef roast, preferably chuck
1 tbs butter
3 tbs onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 of a medium sized onion)
3 tbs carrot, finely chopped (about 1 medium sized carrot)
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (Barolo, California Syrah, Zinfandel or Shiraz are all fine choices)
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 tbs chopped, canned Italian tomatoes (we use Cento brand)
A pinch of dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh marjoram or an 1/8 tsp dried
Salt
Black pepper, fresh ground

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Put just enough vegetable oil in a large skillet to coat the bottom of the pan.  Turn the heat on to high and when the oil starts to shimmer, put in the roast.  Brown it well on all sides, then transfer to a platter and set aside.  Set aside your skillet without cleaning it out for use later.
  • In a separate pot with a tight-fitting lid, large enough to accommodate the meat, put 2 tbs of vegetable oil, the butter and the onion and cook on medium until the onion becomes a pale gold color.  Add the carrot and celery.  Stir thoroughly to coat well, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the browned meat back into the pan.  (We used a dutch oven)
  • Pour the wine into the skillet that you’d used to sear the roast, turn on the heat to medium high, and allow the wine to bubble briskly for a minute while scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen cooking residues stuck to the pan.  Add the contents of the skillet to the pot with the meat.
  • Add the beef broth.  It should come up two-thirds of the way up the sides of the meat, and if it doesn’t add more broth or water.  Add in the tomatoes, thyme, marjoram, salt, and several grindings of pepper.  Turn the heat on to high, bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then cover the pot and put it on the middle rack of the preheated oven.  Cook for about 3 hours, turning the meat every 20 minutes or so, basting it with the liquid in the pot, which should be cooking at a slow, steady simmer.  All the liquid may evaporate before the roast is done.  If that happens, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of water.  Cook until the meat feels very tender when prodded with a fork (about 3 hours.)
  • Remove the meat to a cutting board.  If the liquid in the pot is too thin and hasn’t reduced to less than 2/3 cup, put the pot on the stove on high heat and boil down, while scraping the cooking residues stuck to the pot.  Taste the juices and correct for salt and pepper.  Slice the meat against the grain, put the slices on a warm platter, arranging them so they overlap slightly, pour the pot juices over them and serve immediately.

We served this with roasted carrots and it was the perfect accompaniment.  I hope you all have a warm, cozy day and enjoy the momentary break from reality!

*Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan’s amazing book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking