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

Baby Food – Creamed Spinach and Basil

spinach

Yesterday was one of those days when things just weren’t quite right.  I was getting over a stomach virus so I was getting nothing done and Olive refused to eat any part of a dish I cooked because it had peas (a dish she’s eaten before with much gusto), and thus, ate only orange foods and milk all day.  I really haven’t quite figured out days like that.  I try not to put too much thought into it and move on to the next meal, assuming she’ll eat more at dinner if she didn’t eat much at lunch and vice versa.  It’s hard to remember that babies aren’t little robots you can program as you like.  Some days I don’t feel like eating much for lunch, but I’m ravenous at dinner.  Some days I feel like bacon and eggs and toast and jam for breakfast and some days I’m just in the mood for coffee.  I only assume children are the same (maybe not the coffee part.)  I think it’s important in these seemingly picky-eating times to remain consistent.  Don’t start a bad habit just to get through a rough patch.  If through the picky days, we remain calm and smiling and say, “These two things are for lunch – take them or leave them” I think children will catch on a lot quicker that meal times are directed by mom and dad – and not by them.  A world where a baby dictates what we have for dinner – Lord, help us all…

Today was a little bit better.  Olive ate a two ounce portion of this spinach basil dish, and some leftover mango from yesterday – that was lunch!  Oh, and bits of our chicken, after we thought she had enough to eat 🙂

This is, by far, one of my favorite side dishes, and one of my favorite ways to cook/eat/enjoy spinach.  Matt and I found this recipe from watching an episode of Martha Stewart Living, where the great Jean-Georges Vongerichten cooked his amazing chicken and potatoes (where the potatoes are better than the chicken) and served this spinach on the side.  What a warm, comforting, indulgent family meal!  We have made both of these recipes multiple times over the past few years and each time, they feel new and exciting.  The spinach and basil would be absolutely perfect at Thanksgiving as a side dish.  There’s something about the basil that adds so much depth of flavor to the dish.  The cream helps with that, too…

Today, I didn’t have any fennel or serrano peppers, so I left them out of the original recipe, (which I highly recommend)  but I found it to still be wonderful and ideal for a baby in the 8 month and up range.  To make this for a baby just introduced to solids, simply blend with a couple tablespoons of water or chicken stock.

Creamed Spinach and Basil

serves 4 small portions.  Or 2 and a hungry baby

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves
  • 3 cups tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons very finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spinach and basil and cook until wilted. Immediately transfer to an ice-water bath. Drain and squeeze dry; coarsely chop and set aside. (It looks like there’s hardly enough for one person – it spreads out and thickens up with the addition of the other ingredients, promise.)

  2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook until golden. Add celery and continue cooking until soft and translucent.

  3. Add cream and let reduce until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add spinach and basil and stir to combine. Cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

 

Spinach and Basil 2

 

A little side note for any moms out there who might have a similar issue to me – Olive eats more…diligently…if she is holding something in her hand.  I am not a fan of letting her try to feed herself, yet, and letting her hold a toy is too distracting.  Most things are too distracting, but if we find that she can’t focus on the meal, I usually offer her one of her “salt and pepper” shakers.  She can hold them in her hands and it almost seems the instant she grabs one, she will happily take several more bites.  So, these are her salt and pepper shakers.  Filled with white and long grain black rice, respectively.  They make a nice shaking sound, the rice stays IN the container, and later, as she develops, she can even pretend to season her food.  Although we will certainly teach her to not season before she tastes, as a courtesy to the chef. 😉

spinach and basil 4

 

spinach and basil 3

 

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Bye-bye, Papa (said every day after lunch when he goes back to work – she’s going to be one tomorrow – how on earth did we get to this point?)