Friday, January 15, 2010

Fresh Tomatoes Speak Italian

Prior to graduating from high school and while attending classes my freshman year in college, I lived with an Italian family. I was able to make a little money by helping with their four children and since Mary was a great cook, I learned a different way around the kitchen. One of the things she generally made for Sunday's dinner was a basic marinara sauce, meatballs, and spaghetti. The sauce is simple but delicious!

Basic Marinara Sauce from Diana's kitchen

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3-4 garlic cloves, finely diced
a few pinches kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large (6 lb 6 oz) can whole or crushed tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of Roma's from the freezer)
4 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and garlic, salt, pepper, and cook on low for 5-7 minutes. (Careful not to burn the garlic). Crush the tomatoes by hand and add them and their juices to the pot. Stir to blend the ingredients and bring it to a simmer. With a slightly tilted lid, simmer for about 2 hours and occasionally stir until desired consistency is achieved. Once it is done, add Parmesan cheese and stir. Taste to see if any additional salt is needed.

You can leave this as a chunky sauce, but I prefer this recipe smooth; therefore, I'll use my bamix (hand blender) for just a few seconds to round it out to a velvety puree.

Note: Variations of the sauce can be made by adding wine, basil and other herbs and spices, ground veal, pork or beef... it all depends on how you plan to serve it. If the intent is to freeze some for later use as I plan to do, a basic recipe is the best for when you need a nice sauce.

Remember those extra long San Marzano seeds I ordered from Territorial? Guess what I'll be doing with those tomatoes this summer?

Meatballs from Diana's kitchen

2 eggs, beaten
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely diced
3-4 Tablespoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5-6 large slices of 2-3 day old sourdough bread (crust removed)
5 pounds lean ground beef *

* Note: At times I may vary the 5 lbs of ground beef to include one pound of either ground veal or ground pork.

In a large bowl, add eggs and beat slightly. Add the next 6 ingredients and stir to blend.

Wet the bread slices thoroughly (simply hold it under a slow drip of cold water from the faucet), and gently squeeze just a bit of the water out just so it's not dripping. Crumble the moistened bread into the mixture and stir with a fork until combined.

Add the beef and blend all ingredients together with your hands. The mixture should be somewhat soft and therefore the cooked meatballs will also be very moist and tender.

Moisten your hands with a little water and shape into nice sized balls (this makes about 3 dozen). Add one layer of the meatballs into the sauce (10-12) and heat back to simmer and until you see the outside of the meat beginning to firm. Gently move a few to the side and begin adding the next group to cook back to a simmer. Repeat until the final ones have been added and heated through. This allows each layer to begin cooking so as not to damage the integrity of the meatball as you stir gently. Simmer until done - it will be firm but springy. Of course to be sure, you might do a taste test. (wink)

Sometimes I may first brown the meatballs in olive oil and then put them in the sauce to finish cooking, which gives a little added flavor, or you could bake them in the oven. Add some hot Italian sausage from the grill. The fun thing is variation.

Did I mention we have guests coming for dinner this weekend? Preparation a day or two ahead allows the flavors to meld, and it is always better. Any leftovers will be frozen for another meal. And likely my husband will convince me to make an open-faced meatball sandwich: saute onions, peppers, mushrooms atop the meatballs... a little sauce, some shredded mozzarella cheese, and under the broiler it goes. Don't you just love to cook?