Sunday, September 27, 2009
Memories of Firenze Spaghetti and Meatballs
I grew up on spaghetti with Prego on top and I had no idea there were any alternatives to what I thought was a pretty good meal. Fast forward to college when my parents shipped me off to Florence, Italy for a few weeks and I felt like I had dropped into an alternate food universe. I had never tasted pasta, calzones, salads, gelato, cappuccino, fish and sauces that tasted so fresh and full of flavor. I remember walking along the cobblestone street soaking in the sun one afternoon with the Florence street vendors hocking everything from leather handbags to $1 straw hats in the shape of ice cream cones. Everyday those vendors get out there and make an art of bartering. While I walked along the street, I spotted a street vendor selling calzones and in my famished state I purchased one for under $5.00. I took a bite and I think the heavens opened up. The inside was warm with fresh mozzarella oozing out and a tomato sauce that tasted like the tomatoes had just come off the vine. The outside dough had a light caramel color, it was soft and moist and melted in my mouth along with the sauce and the cheese. I don't think I had ever tasted anything that heavenly in my young life. Couple that meal with the ambiance of the warm sun on my neck, the beautiful architecture of Firenze with the miles of white and pink stone towering above me and the beautiful Italian men and women passing me left and right adamantly speaking their beautiful language with their arms flailing about. It is an experience that everyone should have once in their life as it is one that you will not find anywhere else.
This dish makes me feel like I am back in one of the little restaurants that speckle the streets of Florence. It is the comfort food to top all comfort foods and well worth the time it takes to make it.
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs sans crusts
1/4 cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 handfull chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg beaten
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup red wine (I used Chianti)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti cooked al dente
Place all ingredients under "meatballs" with 3/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. With clean hands, mush it all together until well mixed. Form the mixture into 2-inch balls. You will have approximately 15 meatballs.
Pour part vegetable oil and olive oil in a large skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch and heat the oil. In batches of about 5, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them on all sides. If they brown too quickly, the oil is too hot, too slowly and the oil is not hot enough. You will also need to move the meatballs around constantly for about 10 minutes per batch. Remove the meatballs to a plate with a lot of paper towels. When all the meatballs are complete, discard the oil but don't wipe or clean the pan.
Place the pan back on the stove with heat and pour in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the wine over high heat and scrape up all of the brown bits from the meatballs. Let the wine cook until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, salt and pepper and stir together. Let cook for 5 minutes and add the meatballs back into the sauce. Stir, cover the pot and allow to cook on the lowest heat for 45 minutes.
Stir in the cooked spaghetti along with 1/2 cup of the water that the spaghetti was boiled in. Only serve this (with parmesan) to someone who is nice and considerate of your time and feelings.
Xoxo - AJ