Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Top of Spaghetti

I've always had a problem keeping meatballs from turning into meat cubes. How do you keep them from flattening out when you are browning them? Every recipe tells you not to pack them super tight when rolling, but then they deflate once they hit the frying pan and end up totally deformed. In my experience. 

Tossing these bad boys into the sauce without browning them first helps keep the proper spherical shape, but you may find yourself with a bit of an oil slick on top. (Good thing I didn't add any pork.) Either embrace it or skim away.

Served on toasted hoagie rolls with some extra parm and mozz would make for a great Super Bowl party meal. Or just serve classically...

On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table,
And on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

Slow Cooker Meatballs and Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine

Two (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large basil sprig plus 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground beef chuck
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes into a slow cooker and add their juices. Add the olive oil, tomato paste, basil sprig, crushed red pepper and half of the garlic. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours, until the tomato sauce is very flavorful.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the ground chuck with the remaining garlic and the bread crumbs, egg, 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Roll the mixture into 24 meatballs, being careful not to pack them too firmly.

3. Add the meatballs to the sauce. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour longer, until no trace of pink remains in the center of the meatballs. Discard the basil sprig. Uncover and continue to cook on high for one hour more (or up to 2 hours), until the sauce has reduced. 

4. Skim the excess fat from the surface of the sauce and discard. Add 1 tablespoon of the sliced basil to the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the meatballs into bowls, or serve over pasta or in toasted rolls, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sliced basil and serve, passing extra grated cheese at the table.

Note: The cooked meatballs can be refrigerated in the sauce for up to 2 days before serving.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Leek Week(end)

To complete my week of leeks I offer this potato leek soup, particularly appropriate on this chilly January day. While I admit it's not much to look at, it is a really tasty soup. Not to be confused with vichyssoise (also a potato leek soup), the French classic typically served cold and topped with chives, this simple rustic soup lacks the addition of heavy cream. Save that for your gratin.

Potato Leek Soup

2 large leeks, split lengthwise, washed well, and chopped (white and pale green parts only) 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. In a large heavy saucepan, cook the leeks in the butter with salt and pepper to taste, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are softened but not browned. 

2. Add the water, the broth, and the potatoes and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. In a blender purée 1 cup of the soup, stir the purée into the remaining soup with the parsley, and season the soup with salt and pepper (or with an immersion blender, pulse to the desired texture).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lighten Up

As promised, I have a lighter way to serve leeks that is not completely drenched in fat. Only drizzled. And no, I did not cheat by substituting celery. These are leeks, people. Get familiar.

Leeks with Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food & Wine

2 large leeks, cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips (dark green tops removed)
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (or thyme)

1. In a saucepan fitted with a steamer basket, bring 1-inch of water to a boil. Add the leeks, cover and steam until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the leeks, pat dry and refrigerate until chilled, 10 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the shallot with the mustard and the red wine and balsamic vinegars. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. 

3. Mound the steamed leeks on plates. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, sprinkle with the parsley and serve. Serves 4.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I declare!

The holidays are over and I have a declaration: It's leek week (in my apartment)! Did you know that there are tons of ways to prepare leeks that are really tasty? Do you even know what leeks are? Do you care?

Botanically, leeks are part of the Allium genus along with onions, shallots and garlic, though they are much milder in taste. They are the source of many health benefits much like their vegetable cousins. Leeks contain an important concentration of B vitamin folate, which aids in supporting our cardiovascular system. They are also also are a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamin K, and are a very good source of vitamin A. Forget your Wheaties, kids. Eat your leeks!

Since it's winter and peeps are more inclined to roast meats, make comfort food, and sit in front of a fireplace, I suggest making a leek gratin as the perfect side dish. Yes, you might be burying the health benefits under a blanket of cholesterol, but this is a super delicious way to serve them to anyone who has never tried them. Cheese and cream? Trust. (My next recipe will be lo-cal. I promise.)

Leek Gratin

4 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, roots trimmed
1 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Halve the leeks lengthwise, leaving halves attached at root, and rinse well, shaking off excess water. (See photo below.)

2. In a large skillet, combine the cream and leeks and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the leeks and sauce to a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

3. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake until golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let gratin rest 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

 (And here is a handy guide to properly clean leeks.)