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Archive for March, 2020

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Crazy time, no?

I’m back in New York. Back in my apartment. Back here.

I thought I’d be returning to something resembling my old life. And I did for a brief period after pulling stuff from storage and setting up my kitchen again and hanging my clothes. I’ve been seeing friends across the street or downtown or even Long Island, catching up on doctor appointments that had been pushed off, going to my favorite dance class (floor barre!), reconnecting with colleagues over coffee.

And now that I’ve settled back in to my cozy studio with huge windows, I’m wondering when I’ll ever leave. Sure, there are walks in nice weather when the streets and Central Park aren’t too crowded. Trips to the grocery store more frequently than I’d like due to space constraints in my fridge and freezer (and second freezer) and cabinets.

But while I’m cooped up, I’ve started making my way back to cooking how I used to. With a camera by my side. With notes in the margins. With hills of cookbooks kicked to one end of the sofa as I page through one after another for inspiration. I’m not much for writing these days, so long intros are a thing of the past, but for now I’ve got a backlog of recipes that could serve us all well in the weeks and months to come.

First up, meatballs. (With a Passover variation as well.)

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Meatballs

Makes approximately 4 dozen meatballs 

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn.

The key to meatballs is texture – you don’t want them to be dense or tough. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years. Don’t use meat that’s too lean. Beef should be 15% fat. If you use a leaner meat or mix beef with poultry, I add a little bit of olive oil to the mixture. Mix your meat and other ingredients by hand, and be very gentle. Don’t use a spoon, don’t use a spatula, don’t use a spoonula. Use your hands. (Wash them first, please). To make it a little easier, take your meat out of the fridge about 10 minutes before you plan on starting to take the chill off and let it soften a bit. (Don’t take it out too far in advance. I’m looking at you, E. coli and salmonella). When mixing, be gentle and handle the meat as little as possible, mixing just until the ingredients are evenly distributed. When rolling into balls, the meat will be pretty sticky, so dip your hands into a shallow bowl of water or oil every few balls.

Meatballs freeze well. If you have the space, freeze them in a single layer on a tray, and then put into a container so they won’t squish together. 

Passover modification: replace breadcrumbs with matzah meal, or omit bread crumbs and water altogether and make them gluten free.

– 2 lbs ground meat (I usually use a combination of beef and chicken/turkey)
– 1 medium onion
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 C fine breadcrumbs
– 1/3 C water
– 2 large eggs
– 1/4 C finely chopped fresh parsley
– 1 T kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Olive oil

Prep. Pull the meat out of the refrigerator and allow to rest in a very large bowl for 10-15 minutes, to take the chill off and make it easier to handle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or heavy-duty aluminum foil.  You can place a metal cooling rack over the lined baking sheet – this allows the meatballs cook evenly from every direction, and if you’re using fattier ground meat, prevents the meatballs from sitting in their own fat. Heat the oven to 400F.

Grate. Over another, smaller bowl, grate the onion on the medium holes of a box grater. You should have about 1 cup of onion, including its juice.

Mix. To the meat, add onion (and its juice), garlic, bread crumbs, water, eggs, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. With your hands, gently incorporate all the ingredients until just barely evenly distributed.

Scoop. With the baking sheet nearby, pinch off pieces of meat (about 2 tablespoons) and lightly roll into a golf-sized ball. You don’t want to press too hard to get the meat balls perfectly round, or they’ll be too tough. I cup my hands and gingerly roll/tumble the meat   between them until it forms a slightly lumpy ball. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet or cooling rack so they’re not touching.

Roast. Roast the meatballs in the oven for 20-25 minutes until browned. At 20 minutes, break one meatball open to see if it’s fully cooked through without any pink. Keep checking – once the broken meatball is cooked through, you’ll get to sacrifice another meatball. The more meatballs you need to check, the more treats for you. You can also use a thermometer – the official temperature the meat should hit is 160F (165F for poultry).

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Tomato sauce

Makes ~5 cups

Adapted from Simply Recipes. This is one of those recipes where you spend all of your time chopping vegetables, and then you just throw it in a pot and let it cook and cook and cook and cook. You can take it off after 30-40 minutes, but it will lack the richness and tang that comes with time. If you prefer your sauce chunky, skip the pureeing step, but chop your vegetables more finely and uniformly. 

Use between 3 and 4 cups of sauce for the meatballs. I’m sure you can come up with a use for the rest. 

– 3 T extra virgin olive oil
– 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 celery stalks, including leafy tops, roughly chopped
– 2T finely chopped fresh parsley
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– 3 T tomato paste
– 2 t red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
– 2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat. Heat olive oil in a large cast iron pot on medium heat. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, and parsley until coated with oil. Drop heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through, but the onions aren’t browned.

Cook. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes, and increase the heat to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomato paste starts to darken and brown. Add a half-cup of water (or use read wine if you have it) to deglaze the pan – scrape up all the good stuff sticking to the bottom.

Simmer. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat so sauce is simmering gently. Cover. Check on the sauce periodically, stirring and tasting for for salt and pepper. If it gets too thick, add some water. If too thin, leave the cover ajar so some of the liquid can evaporate. Let simmer for about 90 minutes.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until smooth.

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