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Monday, February 15, 2010

Authentic Italian Meatballs in Sauce - Polpette al sugo

Hi fellow foodies!

Sorry it's been so long. As I mentioned in my last post, I've been having fun using my fake Italian learn authentic Italian recipes. My most recent endeavor was polpette al sugo or Italian meatballs in tomato sauce. You all will be seriously amazed at how easy this recipe is and how great the simple, yet flavorful ingredients taste together.

Typically, I'm the last person you'll catch craving meatballs and definitely the last one to make them, whether it's the American style, the Italian style, or that weird hybrid found on the average meatball sub. Wait, um...I just remembered that there is one exception. Sino-Khmer Krom (Chinese-Cambodian-Vietnamese) style meatballs are really good. Here's the recipe ( But yea, like I was saying, meatballs in the typical sense were so not my thing until I discovered this recipe.

NOTE: These are appetizer meatballs, not spaghetti and meatballs. Spaghetti sauce also has 1/2 -1whole glass white wine and 1 chopped onion and you use more tomato (500 grams--about 2-1/4 cups). For spaghetti sauce, follow this whole recipe with these changes. Mix Hunt's brand crushed tomato (their brand is more of a crush than a chop, as opposed to the overly-chunkiness of other brands, which renders less sauce) and their sauce.

What you'll need:
for the sauce:
1 small can tomato sauce (the short can)
2 - 14.5 once cans of crushed tomatoes (diced will work if that's all you have, but bear in mind that there is still some skin in there, unfortunately) (I highly recommend Hunt's brand for best results in taste and texture)
12 leaves minimum of FRESH basil (yes, the fresh is a must. Otherwise, you totally crock the flavor. It's all about the freshness of your ingredients for simple recipes like this one)
3 cloves garlic, smashed
extra virgin olive oil

For the meatballs
Just over 2lbs of ground meat (mixing the meats is tasty. I did mostly beef with maybe 1/4 of the amount in pork since that's what I had, but veal would be nice, too)

7/8 cup breadcrumbs (you can just do fresh ones with your own toasted bread if you like)

7/8 cup grated parmesan cheese (the bottle is fine)

3 eggs

1 clove pressed or finely minced garlic

a bunch of parsley, minced

a dash of nutmeg

Oil to fry in (if you opt to fry, not bake)

Here is the video in Italian that I watched and here's a website I used for comparison:

Mix the three eggs into the meat mixture
Add in fresh minced parsley and mix in
Add grated parmesan and incorporate into mixture
Add a pinch of nutmeg, 1 garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste and mix into mixture
Add breadcrumbs (fresh or store-bought) and incorporate well until mixture is smooth

Sprinkle a baking sheet, cutting board, or tray with breadcrumbs to avoid sticking. Form meatballs with a handful of meat mixture and place on tray. In this process, some people opt to rolls the balls in bread crumbs before frying (if they opt to fry). I fried the first go-round, but I will likely never fry them again. It's time consuming and wastes lots of oil, while adding tons of unnecessary fat. You can bake these in the oven on 400 degrees for 20 minutes (maybe 30, but I think 20 was perfect, if I am remembering correctly). This works especially well with a pan that allows fat to drip to the bottom pan.

Another option used by the text recipe in the link above is to just to add three tablespoons olive oil to a sautee pan over medium high heat and and once it's sizzling, add in the three cloves of garlic (smashed or sliced is fine) and give it maybe 10-20 seconds to cook, depending on how thin the garlic is. Then add in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and when it's just about to boil, add in the meatballs. Move the pan (we're using a deep pan here, not a pot) around to get the meatballs covered and evenly cooking. Let them cook in the sauce for twenty minutes. Once there's five minute left, add in the basil (just throwing in the whole stem with leaves attached is perfectly fine here). DO NOT add basil before this point or you will cook the flavor out and have a bland sauce. Move the pan around a bit to get the basil flavor distributed. Cook for the last five minutes and enjoy!

If you've opted to fry, simply fry the meatballs and toward the last batch, get your 3TB of oil and three garlic cloves (sliced or smashed) and let the garlic cook as mentioned above. Add in your tomato sauce and tomatoes. Cover the pot and allow it to reach a rapid boil. Add basil leaves whole (attached to stem is fine). Stir in the basil and let it reach a rapid boil. Add in the meatballs once the basil flavor is incorporated. They don't all need to be covered in sauce. Let boil on high for 10 minutes. It's not necessary to cook it any longer than that. The sauce need not be thick. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

(For Real) Authenti Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I enjoy a little Maggiano's every now and then, but I've always been curious as to what real Italian food was like. So, last weekend I thought I'd see what I could find using my Spanish to work through some recipes written in Italian. With the help of to translate the names of veggies and such, it wasn't bad at all. In fact, I took a liking (or maybe even a mild obsession) to learning Italian recipes. I only got a chance to try one recipe because I'm really not much of a pasta eater. My carb of choice would be rice or bread. Sometimes pasta really weighs me down and I'm not a fan of that stuffed-to-the-limit feeling.

Anyway, the recipe I chose was pasta alla carbonara because it was easy to make with what I had at home. When I say easy, I mean absolutely shockingly easy. I had no idea any sauce could be made so quickly. So here goes the translated recipe and here's the link to the original video recipe with a text recipe at the bottom, if you want to see the technique for yourself or work through it with your Italian (or your Spanish or Portuguese) It's a recipe for four persons. 10 minute cooking time, 15 minute prep.

I kind of fell in love with this particular website for Italian recipes, by the way. It's very thorough and great with teaching technique. If you find yourself developing an obsession and want to know how to weed through the Italian recipes written in English, type the name of the dish into using the following format: "name of recipe in Italian + ricetta" That automatically puts you in an Italian search because you included the Italian word for recipe (ricetta).

Oh yea, and here's the metric conversions list You shall need it, friends ;). Just use the measurement for whatever is closest to what you're using.  If you find yourself using Italian recipes often, consider purchasing a food scale.  I have this very affordable one myself (

By the way, this recipe is WAY better the next day. I recommend making it the night before and reheating. It'll look sticky and thick, but trust me, you won't need to add water. It'll melt down and become creamy in the cooking process. Gross (only to your ears, not to your mouth :), but true, you add in half of the bacon fat from cooking, so you know fat is stiff when cold.

Preliminary tip: Read this recipe THOROUGHLY before preparing or you will surely put something down the drain that you actually need for making the sauce and there's no way to get it back or substitute once it's down the drain.

Spaghetti alla carbonara
150 grams of guanciale or pancetta (or substitute thick-cut smoked bacon like I did--about half a pack, cut in thin slices (about half the length from where your nail begins to the tip of your finger) then cooked in a skillet ) (jowl bacon, whatever that is, is the closest thing we Americans have to guanciale, which comes from the cheek of the pig)

100 grams pecorino (I just used shredded parmesan that I crumbled by with my hand before adding it. I think the bagged shredded is probably better than the can for freshness and lower sodium--don't want it overly salty)

350 grams of spaghetti --I think this turned out to be 3/4 packet or so
4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg--some recipes use as many as 7 or 8, I chose to do 5 yolks and an egg, but 4 should work just fine as well.

2TB bacon fat --about half of the fat from cooking the bacon (see video to get an idea of how much she uses--bear in mind we won't use it all because bacon makes way more fat than her guanciale did)

***pasta water*** This is essential!! You MUST add pasta water to make the sauce. It needs to be pasta water, not regular water because the starch is essential to the thickening process of this sauce. See video for visual of the amount. Maybe it was around 1/2-1 cup. I don't remember but you'll see what it should be when you're doing it. You'll see in the video that the lady just opts to not fully drain her pasta to incorporate her pasta water into the sauce. I don't know about you, but I'm no expert at this dish, so I just opted to drain it closer to fully drained and saved the water in a bowl, from which I added more water to the sauce, as needed to get it to the right consistency. If you add too much water, there's no turning back, but if you don't add enough, you can add from your bowl of pasta water that you have set aside.

Fresh parsley (don't pull out your dried stuff on me, it is SO not the same. Just sprinkle a handful of the fresh stuff and mix it in. You actually can taste a difference. This particular video didn't use it, but many others did and I think it's necessary or else it'll be bland)

Salt and pepper (freshly ground is best --with a dish with so few ingredients, the fresher, the better because you can taste the difference)

Now, here's a surprise for you. Where on earth is the garlic, right?! I don't know, but I'll tell you this, no one used it. Not one person, and I searched for recipes for hoursss. So what's my take on this? Mince up a small clove or even half a clove (or else you will easily overpower the this dish), sautee it, and put it in the sauce or shake a bit of garlic powder.

Where's the chicken, you ask? Well, this is spaghetti alla carbonara, not pollo alla carbonara. Nonetheless, my mom insisted that the chicken be incorporated, as opposed to cooked separately and served alongside the pasta, so she took one of those giant bone-in breasts and chopped it down to bite-sized pieces and prepared it with a garlic clove, salt, and pepper in a skillet with olive oil. My recommendation for incorporating the garlic would be via the chicken you add in. The garlic flavor is just right that way. Not overpowering at all. So that's just one clove with the chicken and none with the pasta sauce.

By the way, this amazing sauce cooks with the heat from the pasta and the pasta water, so don't start boiling your pasta too early in advance. Be sure that everything else is prepped and ready to go (eggs, cheese, bacon grease, bacon, salt, and pepper should already be blended in a bowl before the pasta is done, but you can wait to add chicken after or with pasta).


Beat all of the eggs together (yolks and whole), add cheese and beat together until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper. Add bacon and bacon fat. Add freshly cooked, lightly drained pasta, draining at least a cup of the water into a bowl. Add more pasta water, if necessary. Incorporate all of the ingredients and continue to stir until the sauce has thickened. The sauce will continue to thicken. If you leave it to eat for the next day, the flavors blend and intensify and the sauce is able to nicely thicken as well.