Just a mention of meatballs and spaghetti is probably going to conjure up a flashback to one of those cafeteria lunch offerings we would all rather forget from our childhood. And of course most of us didn’t have an Italian Nona to cook for us, so we were left with the next best option, the ubiquitous Italian American restaurant versions of meatballs and spaghetti which were just often delicious enough to keep us coming back.
Fortunately, the true glories of meatballs have surfaced in nearly every culture and cuisine throughout the ages. From China’s Qin Dynasty, the Romans, the Persians, and of course the modern day Italian’s cuisine we are all familiar with today.
The recipe that follows does not stray far from the wisdom of the Italian Nona. My one exception is making the meatballs larger than the smaller traditional Italian “polpettes”. I much prefer the tender juiciness of these meatballs that are slowly simmered in a simple traditional “passata” tomato sauce. Serve them as they are or with pasta along with a beautiful crisp salad and you have a perfect pairing for simple meal for any season.
Meatballs…(Basics) makes twelve 2 ½ oz meatballs
- 1 pound/ 455 g best quality ground beef
- 1 pound/ 455 g lean ground pork
- 2 thin slices pancetta, minced
- ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Regiano
- 1 small onion, minced (about ¾ cup)
- 2 small garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- ½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
- 1 extra large organic egg, whisked
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
- 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Passata tomato sauce
- 3 bay leaves
In a large mixing bowl combine the ground beef, ground pork, and minced pancetta. Toss with your hands until well combined and set aside.
In a small mixing bowl combine the bread crumbs and milk. Set aside for 5 minutes and then squeeze out the excess milk.
In a medium bowl combine the milk soaked bread crumbs, 1 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, minced onion, minced garlic, chopped parsley, whisked egg, ground pepper, pepper flakes, and sea salt. Toss the ingredients together until well combined. Then scatter the mixture over the ground meats and pancetta.
Using your hands, toss all the ingredients together until they are completely combined. Cover the mixture with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Once the chilled meatball mixture has firmed up, remove from the fridge, and weigh out 12 2 oz portions. Roll each portion gently between the palms of your hands until uniformly rounded. Do not over compress the mixture as you roll the meatballs. The less densely compacted they are the more tender and juicy they will be when cooked.
Gently roll each meatball in the flour until evenly coated. Shake off excess flour and place the meatballs on a tray. Cover the filled tray with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will firm up the meatballs so they retain their shape while browning them.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C
Remove the chilled meatballs from the fridge. Place the olive oil in a wide shallow braising pan or oven proof skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is nearly smoking add half of the meatballs to the pan and cook them until evenly browned on all sides. When done remove the meatballs and set them aside on a platter while you brown the remaining meatballs.
Once all the meatballs are browned, pour most of the oil out of the pan and remove any remaining bits left in the pan using a paper towel. The pan should look fairly clean. Add a bit more fresh oil if necessary.
Return the browned meatballs to the braising pan and pour the preheated “passata” tomato sauce into the pan until it nearly covers the meatballs leaving just the tops exposed. Tuck the bay leaves into the sauce and transfer the pan to the oven. The braising can also be done on the stove top if an oven is not an option.
After 30 minutes open the oven door, turn the pan, and add more sauce if needed. Return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes. When finished the sauce should have thickened somewhat and the tops of the meatballs nicely glazed.
If you are serving the meatballs on a bed of pasta as pictured, have the pasta cooked al dente and ready for serving as soon as the meatballs come out of the oven.
Serving: Place the pasta on individual plates and top with 3 meatballs per serving. Spoon sauce over the pasta and a little over the meatballs. Top each meatball with the remaining grated Parmegiano-Reggiano and serve.
“Passata” Tomato Sauce:
- 2 24 oz bottles or cartons of Italian passata tomato sauce (Mutti brand is very good)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- a pinch of sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground red chile (optional)
- chicken stock as needed
“Passata” describes a process where vine ripe Roma tomatoes are passed through a food mill and then cooked. The process removes the seeds and skin from the tomatoes and once cooked makes a simple tomato sauce with just a few added ingredients.
I highly recommend using imported passata. There are several brands available. Mutti is my favorite and makes a beautiful sauce bursting with flavor.
Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when nearly smoking pour in the passata and stir. Once the sauce comes back to a boil lower the heat to a simmer. Stir in the salt, black pepper, sugar, and chile powder if using. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add hot chicken stock if the sauce needs thinning.
Keep the sauce warm on the stove top to add to the meatballs for braising or for saucing pasta before serving.
You will most likely have left over sauce which you can freeze for later use.
We’re already heading into the hottest months of the year here in Thailand and I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than cooking up a fiery Jamaican Jerk. It’s hot, its ‘spicy, it’s smokin, and it’s a sure bet for breaking into a sweat that’s going to cool you right down Jamaica style!
I realize you all who live further north are still getting battered by some fierce late winter storms, but what better way to escape winter’s travails than chowing down on a seriously hot and lively Jamaican Jerk. Hold onto that thought! This is the kind of in your face spirited food that interjects a partying mood with every mind blowing bite anytime of the year!
Jerk refers to the local Jamaican cooking methods as well as the spice mixture, including locally grown allspice, that is used as a rub or marinade that seasons the chicken or pork before cooking. The allspice tree is an evergreen shrub that grows throughout the Greater Antilles, Southern Mexico, and Central America. The wood is used for cooking and smoking while the allspice berries (pimento) are dried, ground and combined with other spices for the Jamaican Jerk rub or marinade.
Jamaican jerk evolved using cooking methods brought to the island by enslaved Africans combined with indigenous Taino traditional pit roasting. Once metal barrels arrived on the island, vertical barrels were adapted for grilling and smoking the jerk simultaneously. Eventually barrel cookery was reinvented by splitting the barrel horizontally. The bottom half of the barrel is stoked with charcoal and fired up. The hot embers are then topped with allspice wood or sweet wood (laurel). The chicken or pork is then placed on top of the smoldering wood. The upper half of the barrel is then pulled down to create an intense chamber of aromatic smoke emitting from the red hot embers and smoldering wood. This combination of flavors and aromas is what makes Jamaican Jerk so unique and popular in Jerk joints on the island as well as in Jamaican enclaves in the US, Canada, the UK, and other Caribbean islands.
The other essential ingredient for any authentic Jamaican jerk is the island’s notoriously hot Scotch Bonnet chilies! These chilies have a distinct fruity flavor, but it is their 100,000 Scoville units of spicy heat that ranks them as the hottest chilies on the planet! But don’t let that scare you off. Risk is, after all, the very spice of life!
The recipe that follows is for Jamaican jerk chicken for the home cook. Obviously home cooks are not going to have a barrel cooker or maybe not even a grill for that matter. Not to worry! The oven method that follows will deliver an authentic mahogany colored Jamaican Jerk scented with allspice and sweet wood (bay laurel) that you will be proud to serve and a sure fire crowd-pleaser to use year round.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken serves 4
Prepare the marinade mixture and marinate the chicken for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before roasting.
Scotch bonnet chilies will be hard to find unless you happen to live near a Jamaican enclave. If they are not available, Habanero chilies are very similar and available in Latino markets. Otherwise using a combination of hot Thai chilies will nicely replicate the flavor and heat of the Scotch Bonnet chilies.
You can use a whole chicken with backbone removed, a chicken cut into pieces, legs and thighs only, or just skin on breasts. Breasts in particular, using this cooking method, are beautifully succulent and juicy.
For the marinade/rub:
- 2-4 Scotch Bonnet chilies or Habanero chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- If Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies are not available, use 2 yellow Thai chilies and 6-8 red and/ or green Thai chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- 6 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely ground bay leaves (ground in an electric spice mill)
- 3 tablespoons natural dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Using a food processor or blender, combine the chilies, scallions, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Pulse until the mixture is well combined and nearly pureed.
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, rum, and soy sauce until well combined. With the food processor or blender running add the liquid mixture until well combined.
Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream until just incorporated.
Add the salt and pulse to mix. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Transfer the marinade to a non-reactive bowl or tray large enough to hold the chicken and set aside.
You can either poke holes into the chicken using a skewer or, if using breasts, slash the underside of the breasts with a very sharp knife on the diagonal. This will allow the marinade to penetrate deeply into the flesh.
Massage and press the chicken into the marinade until completely covered. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you intend to roast.
Preheat the oven to 475 f/ 245 c
Select a deep roasting pan and a rack that will fit into the roasting pan snugly.
- ½ cup broken bay laurel leaves
- ¼ cup allspice berries or
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- ½ cup water
Scatter the bay leaves evenly over the bottom of the roasting pan. Top evenly with the allspice berries or ground allspice. Add the water to the pan and place the rack into the pan. Transfer to the preheating oven.
Once the oven is up to the required heat, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and place the chicken onto the hot rack skin side down. Promptly return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is roasting, transfer the remaining marinade to a sauce pan and reduce until the marinade is the consistency of a paste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
After 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken over, skin side up. Baste generously and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes. Then open the oven and baste the chicken once again. Turn the pan to ensure even roasting and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes. The chicken should have an almost mahogany charred color. Do not be concerned. The chicken has not burned, the brown sugar has merely darkened the marinade during roasting.
Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Traditionally Jerk is served with rice and beans, and sometimes with a spicy fruit salsa as pictured. Be sure to spoon pan juices over the chicken before serving.
Any tropical fruit salsa laced with chilies adds a fresh sweetness to the sliced jerk chicken.
Here are a couple of hearty old favorite wintry food ideas to enjoy while you are sitting in front of your TV watching all the ongoing 2018 Winter Olympic competitions taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea.
I’ve been a real fan of winter sports ever since I was a kid and have followed my two favorite winter sports, figure skating and downhill skiing, ever since. There is something about the physical freedom of gliding over the ice or snow that defies description other than to say it is as close to an out of body experience you will ever have. When you stand on top of a snow covered mountain there is a crisp silence that sets you free just before you push away for your downhill run through the snow covered forest. I lived in Santa Fe for several years and there was Ski Santa Fe just a short drive outside of town, so skiing became a regular weekend activity. After several runs it was always great to ski up to the mountainside outdoor bar and grill to refuel and catch up with friends. The grill cooks were at their stations turning out these amazing, I’m going to call them, Santa Fe burgers topped with Grilled New Mexico green and red chilies and grilled pineapple. I guess it could be called a Hawaiian burger as well. In any case the heat of the chilies paired with the caramelized pineapple really hit the spot! You felt re energized and ready to hit the mountain for a couple more late afternoon runs before the sun sets over the northern New Mexican mountain scape.
Another hearty favorite ski season meal is a New Mexican cassoulet like bean stew laced, of course, with wonderfully hot and flavorsome roasted red and green chilies. This is food for any season, but especially perfect served in front of a fire, or in this case in front of your TV, watching the Winter Olympics.
Santa Fe Burger with Grilled Pineapple and chilies 1 burger
Best to gather all your ingredients together grill side and ready to go once the grill is fired up and red hot!
The green and red chile rajas should be made in advance. See the recipe below.
- 1 burger roll of choice
- olive oil for brushing
- 1 small peeled garlic clove
- 5 oz/ 142 g best quality ground beef, formed into thick patty
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon light soy sauce
- sea salt
- 1 slice yellow or red onion, grilled
- 1 pineapple round, grilled
- green and red chile rajas (strips)
- 2 thin slices Manchego or Gouda cheese
- firm green lettuce leaf
- tomato ketchup (optional)
Preheat the grill until the coals are red hot.
Slice the burger bun in half and lightly brush the interior surfaces with olive oil. Place the halves on the grill and toast, turning the bun a quarter turn after a minute to mark the surface with a cross hatch pattern. Remove from the grill and rub the grilled surface with a small garlic clove and set aside.
In a small bowl combine the olive oil, fish sauce, and light soy sauce and set aside.
Pat the burger dry with a paper towel and place on a small plate. Brush the surface with the olive oil mixture and season with sea salt. Place brushed side down on the hottest part of the grill. Lightly brush the top surface with olive oil mixture and season with salt. let the burger grill until it is deeply marked before giving a quarter turn to mark with a cross hatch pattern. Then flip the burger over and grill as before until marked with a cross hatch pattern. At this point the burger should be done with a pink center. If you want a medium well done burger continue grilling another minute on each side.
Top the burger with the cheese and allow the cheese to soften before removing the burger from the grill.
While the burger is grilling brush both sides of the onion and pineapple slices and place them on the grill. After a minute or so give the slices a quarter turn to mark with a cross hatch pattern. Then flip them over and repeat to mark with the cross-hatch pattern as before.
Assembling the burger:
Place the bottom half of the bun on a plate. Lightly spread mayonnaise over the surface and top with a leaf of lettuce.
Place the grilled burger on the lettuce. Add the grilled onion on top and top the onion with the grilled pineapple round. Place some green and red chile rajas over the pineapple and add ketchup if using.
Place the top of the burger bun over the burger and serve!
Green and Red Chile Rajas Makes 1 pint
Chile rajas are useful as an addiction to so many dishes! There is some preparation involved but well worth the effort. The whole process does become second nature once you have made them a few times, and, as pictured above, are a spicy garnish for a New Mexican bean stew/cassoulet
- 6 whole fresh green chilies
- 3 whole fresh red chilies
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crumbled
Place the whole green and red chilies on the hot grill, or over an open flame on the stove top, and grill until the skin is blistered and charred on all sides. Place the charred chilies in a bowl and tightly cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to sweat until cool enough to handle.
At this point the charred skin will slip off the chiles quite easily. If there are scorched flesh or stubborn bits of blackened skin left attached don’t worry about it. This will add a smoky flavor to the chilies.
Slit the chilies in half lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds and membranes and discard them. Slice the chilies into thin strips (rajas) lengthwise and halve the strips crosswise.
In a skillet heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the sliced onions and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Then add the chile rajas and season with salt and dried sage. Saute for several minutes until the mixture is well combined and fragrant. Transfer the rajas, including the oil, to a bowl and set aside to cool. Then cover with cling film and refrigerate if not using right away. The rajas will keep well for about 5 days when refrigerated.
Who doesn’t love a “bowl of red”, that infamous hot and spicy earthy red chili stew from Texas and the American Southwest. Chili’s popularity really took hold when local chili joints starting popping up across the country in the early 1900’s. A Chili nation was born and chili has been embraced as real North American food ever since!
But hold on, beans, tomatoes, chile peppers, and cacao are all native to the Americas and cultivated by native central American peoples as staple foods along with maize as cornerstones of their diet. Stews not unlike what we now know as chili were likely being cooked up by the Aztecs long before the Europeans ever set foot in the new world. With the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese spices like cumin from the eastern Mediterranean and cinnamon from south Asia were introduced into the local native cuisine and influenced the evolving cuisines of Central and South America.
So yes, Chili’s North Americanization and enduring popularity is undeniable, but it is also a testament to the ingenuity of earlier native American cultures as well.
Making an authentic chili is really quite simple. What follows is a very basic recipe to build from. For me, a well made chili hinges on using the very best authentic ingredients. A stellar chili is a stand alone dish that needs little embellishment. Forget the chili season mixes, the cheese, and the sour cream. It is all about savoring the deep the earthy flavors and aromas of chile combined with the earthiness of the beans!
Authentic New Mexico pure ground red chile, ground chipotle chile, Mexican oregano, and chorizo are all available on line if they are not available where you live.
Chili: serves 6
- ¼ cup cold pressed peanut or olive oil
- 4 cups diced onions
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 ¼ pounds/570 grams best quality ground beef
- 3 tablespoons pure ground red chile (New Mexican is ideal)
- 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile
- 2 tablespoons toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano (Mexican is ideal)
- 2 tablespoons pure unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup tomato paste (imported Italian is best)
- 1 quart beef stock, hot
- 2 cans kidney beans or pinto beans (or home cooked), partially drained
- 1 oz/28 g thinly sliced chorizo, cut into thin strips
- 4 chopped fire roasted green chilies
- diced red onions
Place 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat to medium low. Season with a little salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook another couple of minutes.
While the onions are cooking, place a skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot add the ground beef, season with a little salt, and saute until the beef releases its juices and is lightly brown and crumbly, about 15 minutes.
Transfer the beef to the soup pot with the onions and stir to combine. Add the ground chile, ground chipotle chile, cumin seeds, oregano, cocoa, and cinnamon. Season with a little salt and stir until well combined. Then form a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste, smashing it against the bottom of the pan to caramelize the paste for about 2 minutes. Then add about two thirds of the hot stock, stir to combine, and bring the contents back up to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir in the beans and add the remaining stock. Bring the contents back to a low simmer, add the chorizo, and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chilli has thickened and is a beautiful deep red. Taste and add salt if needed.
I like to serve the chili family style with individual chili bowls set out for each person. Be sure to have small bowls of chopped fire roasted green chilies (see here) and diced red onions for those who want to add some fiery heat to their chili. I love to serve my chili with freshly steamed tamales (see here) as well, but a basket of warm flour tortillas or cornbread will do nicely as well.