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Posts Tagged ‘spaghetti’

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Serves 4-5.

1 ½ lbs. spaghetti
6 cups tomato sauce
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground sirloin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. ground onion (about a quarter of an onion)
1 tbs. parsley or thyme, finely chopped (only one)
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (stale white bread ground in a food processor)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup whole milk (enough milk to wet crumbs without them sitting in a big puddle)
1 pinch chili flakes
¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Vegetable oil, to coat the pan
Salt and ground black pepper

  • Soak breadcrumbs in milk for about 5 minutes or until all the milk is absorbed.
  • Add onion, garlic, chili flakes, grated cheese, eggs, herbs, pepper, and salt (if you like things on the saltier side like me, a small palm-ful is good). Mix everything well. Add meat. Mix gently until just combined.
  • Form golf ball sized balls. Don’t tightly pack the meatballs. Only handle them until just round. You can also make one tiny marble sized meatball (cook this one in the pan to make sure your seasoning is right. If it needs more salt, just sprinkle the formed meatballs with more salt).
  • Meanwhile, heat up a big pot of water to a rolling boil. Make the spaghetti according to the package.
  • Heat up a pan on high. Add oil and let it heat up. When almost smoking, add the meatballs, trying not to overcrowd the pan. It’ll probably take two batches of cooking to get them all.
  • Sear the meatballs on all sides. Take them out of the pan and set them aside.
  • Drain the excess grease from the pan, if there is any. Lower flame to medium and add tomato sauce. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let tomato sauce come to a bare simmer. Add all meatballs to sauce and let simmer for about 8-10 minutes to finish off cooking.
  • Toss together spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce. Serve with more cheese on the side.

The key to this recipe is the use of fresh breadcrumbs and soaking them in milk. I had always used dry breadcrumbs (the kind in a can) and the meatballs always came out a little too dense. The milk-soaked fresh crumbs give a lightness and creaminess to the meatballs. Almost as good as grandma’s.

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I actually had a low key Friday evening to myself for the first time in a looooong time. No frantic Christmas shopping, no holiday parties, no family dinners, just me, Moo Shu, a slew of Monk reruns on DVR, and a big bag of clams in the fridge. I cooked up some spaghetti with clams, a quick and easy standby, perfect for when I want to cook without thinking. It came out better than ever.

I suppose my whole not-caring-much nonchalance added that little bit of magic needed to raise the dish to a new level. Like that guy that only likes the girls who play hard to get…maybe.

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Spaghetti with Clams

Serves 2-3.

3/4 lb. spaghetti (linguine or angel hair would work too)
18 littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed (cockles and cherry stones work well too, just be aware of the change in cooking time as cockles are much smaller than littlenecks and cherry stones are larger)
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbs. parsley, chopped
2 tsp. lemon zest
4 ½ tbs. lemon juice
2 tbs. unsalted butter
3 ½ tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 pinches red chili flakes
Salt and pepper

  • Heat a deep sautee pan over a medium high heat. Add 1 tbs. of the butter into the pan along with 1 tb. of olive oil.
  • After the butter has melted and the oil has heated (about 2 minutes), put the garlic in the pan and sautee it for about 1 minute or until cooked and lightly brown. Add the red chili flakes.
  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package in a pot of boiling, well salted water. A few seconds before you drain the pasta, carefully reserve 3/4 cup of the water. Set aside for later.
  • At this point, add the clams and 1 tbs. of lemon juice to the pan. Stir the clams around and lower the heat to low. Cover the pan and allow the clams to steam open. This should take approximately 9 minutes. Check back after the first 7 minutes though, just to make sure you don’t end up over cooking them and making them rubbery.
  • Once the clams are cooked,  check the clams for any that are unopen. Now don’t go nuts and start tossing half the clams out if they aren’t open. They’re probably just not done cooking yet. They won’t all cook at exactly the same second. If you see a bunch (more than 4) unopened, give them another minute. You may wind up with no unopen clams at the end or there may be one or two. These are the ones that were dead to begin with. Do not, I REPEAT, do not pry them open, you little cheapskate. Let them go. Toss them. Your digestive tract will thank you.
  • Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan. Stir it all rigorously to mix the sauce, clams, and pasta. Turn off the heat.
  • At this point, add the 3 remaining tbs. of lemon juice, the lemon zest, cracked black pepper, 1/2 cup of the reserved water, the other 1 tbs. of butter, the other 2 ½ tbs. of olive oil, and about 2 tsp. (like two really big pinches) salt. Toss the pasta once more. The strands should be glossy from the sauce, but there shouldn’t be so much liquid that it completely floods the bottom of the pan. There should just be a thin film of it on the bottom (see photo below). Taste the pasta for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, or chili flakes if necessary.
  • Garnish with parsley and serve with a small bowl for the clam shells.

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See that? Just a wee bit of sauce at the bottom with the strands all glossy and ready for their closeup

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I’ve been wanting to post this for awhile now, realizing that the pseudo-recipe I described in my first post “The Chewy, the Cheesy, and the Saucy” was a cruel tease when a co-worker of mine told me he was very excited to try that recipe. I had to tell him, “No, don’t! The whole point is that that simple recipe doesn’t translate well, being made over here. Just wait till I post my real recipe.”

I used to spend $8 on Rao’s Marinara Sauce before I buckled down and fully developed my own tomato sauce recipe (other recipes were never quite right, too sour or too bland or both). Now I only use Rao’s when I’m in the absolutely laziest of moods, because this recipe is really just too easy.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Makes about 6 1/2 cups.

52 oz. chopped, peeled canned tomatoes (I prefer the Pomì brand that comes in a large juice box-like cardboard container, but any good brand that purely consists of tomatoes will do)

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced

2 Bay leaves, whole

1 tsp. dried oregano

4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbs. unsalted butter

1/2 tsp. sugar

Salt and pepper

  • In a large pot or sauce pan, heat up the olive oil over high heat. When the pan is hot (this should take about 5 minutes, test the heat by throwing in a speck of garlic and watch to see if it sizzles), lower the heat to medium, and put in the onions. Let them cook for about 1 minute, then add the garlic (I always like to add the garlic a minute after the onions because they cook more quickly than the onions, but if you put them in at the same time this, by no means, constitutes a disasterous debacle).
  • Cook the garlic and onions until the garlic is soft, but not yet brown at all and the onions are translucent and just shy of golden. Lower the heat to medium-low.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes. Stir so that everything combines and then toss in the bay leaves. Let the sauce come to a simmer (popping bubbles appear in the liquid), then turn the heat down to low. Cover and let it continue to simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, uncover the sauce and season it with salt, pepper, and sugar. Crush the dried oregano in the palm of your hand and add it to the sauce. Now, add the butter and stir until the butter has melted.
  • Pick out the bay leaves. Taste the sauce for seasoning (add more salt if it’s bland, more sugar if it’s too salty, more butter if it’s too tangy), then serve with pasta or place into containers, allow to cool on the counter, then freeze for future use.

How simple and easy is that (not to sound like Rachael Ray or anything)! The secret ingredients in this sauce are the bay leaves and the butter. Don’t worry, the butter won’t make the sauce too creamy or make it into some sort of “pink” sauce. It just tempers the acidity, or (sometimes) sharp flavor of the tomatoes. Also, if you happen to have some celery and/or carrots in the fridge that you want to get rid of, you can very finely dice those up and add them to the pot at the same time as the onions.

Use this sauce for lasagna, puttanesca (with olives, capers, and anchovies), arrabbiata (“angry” spicy tomato sauce), or amatriciana (with bacon and extra onions). Or just eat it on its own with some spaghetti. The possibilities are endless.

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So I knew I just had to use those beauteous oyster mushrooms I bought last weekend at the Greenmarket in Union Square before they shriveled up and died (just kidding, they were already dead). The woman at the Bulich Mushroom Farm stall told me they’d be good in the fridge for 7-10 days. I prudently subtracted 2 days from that (she didn’t seem completely sure of that time estimate) and decided that Friday was my deadline and what with the horrific, freezing rain, it was the perfect night to stay in and cook. Good thing, because by the time I pulled them out of the fridge, I could tell, one more day and they would’ve been goners.

Again, I wanted to keep the dish simple because the mushrooms are so tasty themselves. I decided to improvise the recipe below (but I kept careful measurements as I went along, soooo unlike me). It turned out wonderfully, if I do say so myself; the “no-sauce sauce” was light and garlicky, the mushrooms became sweet and tender.

I call it “Spaghetti with Wild Mushrooms” and not “Spaghetti with Oyster Mushrooms,” because you could use any variety or mix of wild mushrooms and it would be delish. Some good alternatives include chanterelles, shiitakes, and trumpets, or any mix of those. This is pretty much a foolproof dish. I mean, cheese, pasta, garlic? How could you go wrong with those? I served it alongside a mixed salad with a classic red wine vinaigrette (recipe also below).

Spaghetti with Wild Mushrooms

Serves 3.

3/4 lb spaghetti, snapped in half while still uncooked (it’s so much easier to mix when the strands are shorter)

1/2 lb. (or ~3 cups) oyster mushrooms, chopped into medium-sized chunks

5 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 small white or yellow onion, finely diced

1 Bay leaf

2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

2 1/3 tbs. (or 2 tbs. + 1 tsp., since 3 tsp. = 1 tbs.) extra virgin olive oil

2 tbs. unsalted butter

1 cup reserved pasta cooking water

1 tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

  • Liberally salt boiling water (~1 small handful of salt, sounds like a lot, I know, but it’s not). Boil spaghetti according to instructions on the package. Stir frequently to avoid the strands sticking together. Right before draining spaghetti, reserve a cup of the water it was cooked in. Set the water aside for later.
  • Heat a sautee pan on high. Add 1 tbs. of oil. After about 1 minute, turn the heat to medium low. Put the onions in the pan and stir occasionally.
  • After about another minute, when the onions are just starting to soften, add the garlic. When the onions and garlic are translucent, add the mushrooms.
  • When mushrooms have softened (~2 minutes), add butter and bay leaf. Stir to melt the butter. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Once butter is melted, turn the heat to low and cook the mushrooms fully (~3-4 minutes).
  • Add cooked pasta to mushrooms, along with 1 1/3 tbs. (4 tsp.) extra virgin olive oil, and mix well.
  • Fish out the bay leaf and discard. Add reserved pasta water 1/4 cup at a time until the pasta mixture is “loosened.” Be careful to add just enough water so the pasta is silky and smooth without being oily or having any water accumulate at the bottom.
  • Stir in 1 cup Parmigiano cheese. Save the rest of the cheese for adding at the dining table.
  • At this point, you can garnish with 2 tbs. of chopped parsley for a nice color and freshness.

Mixed Greens with Classic Red Wine Vinaigrette

Serves 4.

1/4 red onion, sliced

5 cups mixed greens (radicchio, romaine lettuce, frisee)

1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard

2 tsp. plain water (my vinaigrette secret weapon!)

1 1/3 tbs. or 1 tbs. + 1 tsp. red wine vinegar (this vinaigrette works with balsamic and champagne vinegars too) 

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1/3 tsp. white sugar

Salt and pepper

  • At the bottom of large mixing bowl, whisk together vinegar, dijon mustard, lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and water. After that’s combined, at the oil and whisk vigorously. Taste the dressing with a piece of lettuce. If it’s too tart, add a teeny bit more sugar or oil. If it’s too bland, add salt or vinegar. If it’s too salty, add lemon juice or sugar. If it’s just too potent in general and you keep adding various things and nothing’s working, add a splash of water.
  • Add greens and onions on top of vinaigrette. When ready to serve, toss the greens, onions, and dressing.

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Writing my first real post for this blog the other day about the Neopolitan-style pizza and the tomato sauce I learned how to make with Mirella gave me a hankering for some good ol’ spaghetti alla carbonara (see About Me page). I made it last night for my sister and boyfriend. They seemed to enjoy it (see last photo at bottom of post).

Spaghetti alla carbonara literally means, “spaghetti in the style of the coal miner.” Legend has it that coal miners used to make/eat this dish because it doesn’t involve many ingredients and you can carry the cheese and meat around with you and then pick up some eggs from the henhouse on your way home at the end of the day, then quickly whip up this meal…or something like that. Who knows? No matter what the story, this dish is undeniably delectable and everyone should try it at least once.

 

In case you don’t know, this delicious pasta dish consists of spaghetti in a Parmigiano cheese, bacon, and cream sauce (how can you lose with that combo?). Some of you who are familiar with carbonara may exclaim, “But you’ve left out the main ingredient, Sherry! The eggs! MY GOD, THE EGGS!” Calmez-vous. I tend not to include this in the descriptor for those unfamiliar with this dish since it sometimes leads people to imagine a giant platter of pasta topped with scrambled eggs and bacon, which it definitely is not.

 

I learned this recipe while I was, you guessed it, living in Italy, but have tweaked it since then. Mirella showed me how to make the “real deal.” I say “real deal” in quotes because she is, after all, a native Florentine and this dish is traditionally Roman. It’s analogous to a native New Yorker having a fabulous recipe for fried chicken. But just because the recipe’s not completely authentic or hasn’t been handed down generations doesn’t mean it’s not good.

 

All I can say for sure is that this dish (and recipe) is fantastic. It’s so quick and easy you’ll wanna make it every other night (but practice some self-discipline and don’t, you’ll get fat, yeah…you will). The main thing about spaghetti alla carbonara is the technique, not so much the complexity of ingredients or number of ingredients.

 

Traditional Italian carbonara recipes call for guanciale (cured pork jowles), but guanciale is difficult to find. Americanized recipes for carbonara, instead, call for pancetta (Italian cured bacon, similar to American bacon, but not smoked and comes in round slices, not strips) which is delicious, but for this, I prefer regular smoked bacon (anything but maple smoked). I love how crispy bacon gets, as opposed to the more crusty chewiness of pancetta, plus regular bacon’s much easier to find at any supermarket. You’ll also notice I call for quite a bit of garlic. The number of garlic cloves really depends on how much you like garlic. I LOVE it so I always say the more the merrier, but I know not everyone shares my amorous opinion so if you’re not a huge fan, cut it to 2 cloves, instead of 5.

 

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

 

Serves 4.

 

1 lb spaghetti, snapped in half while still uncooked (or linguine)

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

1/3 lb bacon, diced into tiny cubes

2 cups (Approx.) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

4 large egg yolks, separated from their whites (whites discarded or saved for something else)

½ cup reserved pasta water

½ (Approx.) cup heavy cream or half and half

Salt and Pepper

 

  • Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Follow the instructions on the box for the timing and do not overcook the pasta. Another thing that’s important about the timing of the pasta is that you want all the other ingredients waiting for the spaghetti to finish cooking, not vice versa, because you must add the eggs and cream to the very hot pasta or else it won’t become the glistening, smooth sauce that it should. So if you think the rest of the process (chopping, mixing, sauteeing, etc.) will take you awhile, don’t start the recipe by boiling water for the pasta. Wait until you’ve gotten through a couple of steps to put the water on.

  • Heat a frying or sautee pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the bacon to the pan. Break up the bacon and spread it out so it’ll fry, not steam, and then leave it alone. Don’t keep stirring it or it won’t come out as exquisitely crisp as possible. After it has fried on one side for about 3 minutes, stir the bacon around so the other side will cook (don’t worry about literally flipping every single speck of bacon over). Let it fry until it’s completely cooked through, about another 3-4 minutes.

  • While the bacon is cooking, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Add the cream, cheese, and lots of black pepper. Stir them all together. Set this aside (not in the fridge).

  • Turn off the heat under the pan. Scoop out the bacon onto a plate (lined with paper towels to make yourself feel better about eating bacon and cream, if you’d like).

  • Once the bacon is no longer searingly hot, add a couple of tablespoons of it to the egg and cream mixture to raise the temperature. This is called “tempering” the cream and it’s important because if you don’t, the cool cream might curdle when it hits the hot pasta. But if you’ve added the warm bacon to the eggs and cream, the overall temperature of the cream mixture will slowly and gradually rise, thus preventing curdling. If the bacon cools significantly you can add all of it to the cream mixture, but if it doesn’t, you can just add it to the spaghetti later.

  • Dispose of excess bacon fat in the pan by pouring it into the garbage or in a bowl to cool first and then dump it (do not pour blisteringly hot oil/grease down the drain, it’s bad for the drain).

  • Using the residual oil in the pan, heat up the pan again on medium heat (this shouldn’t take long since it’s probably still hot from the bacon). Add the garlic and cook until brown. Keep your eyes on it, garlic can go from golden, brown and delicious to black, burnt and nasty very quickly. This should take about 2-3 minutes. But also don’t be fooled by the black bits of bacon in the pan that cling to the garlic and make it look burnt. Just watch the garlic carefully and use your common sense that it wouldn’t have burned in 30 seconds and it’s probably just the bacon bits in the oil.

  • At this point, the spaghetti should just be finished cooking. Reserve a cup of the water the pasta cooked in before draining. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large pot or bowl. Working quickly, add the egg and cream mixture, garlic, and bacon (if you haven’t already incorporated it all into the cream mixture) to the pasta and stir vigorously and I mean, vigorously (I typically use two large wooden spoons or a big spatula and tongs). This is also very important so that your eggs become a sauce and not Sunday’s western scramble.

  • If the pasta seems dry or there’s not enough sauce, pour in 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water at a time until it is sufficiently loose and stirrable; however, if it’s still clumping too much to stir easily after about 6 tablespoons, add a bit of cream about 2 tablespoons at a time so the sauce doesn’t get too watery and bland. If you’ve added extra water and cream, I would suggest adding more cheese as well. Taste and add salt if necessary.

  • Serve immediately.

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