Monday, January 29, 2007

Comforting Spaghetti Sauce

After class on Friday Alex told me his friends were coming in for dinner. I love cooking for people and usually these impromptu chances to entertain are happily welcomed. However, Friday happened to be numbingly cold and the high winds left me dreading the trip to the grocery store.

Having no idea what to make and very few ingredients on hand I looked to my cookbooks for help. Since our apartment and kitchen are small, I don’t like to separate myself from the group by being tied to the stove with a complicated recipe. I also get claustrophobic when people crowd into the space. You know what they say, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” Therefore, I always opt for meals that I can create beforehand and then throw into the oven once everyone’s hungry.

On Friday, I was initially drawn to the lasagna recipes but ultimately decided that a hearty pasta dish would be easier and equally satisfying. Normally when I make red sauce I make a spicy Bolognese with chunks of tomatoes floating throughout. I wanted to do something different this time- something smoother and more comforting. I decided to create a pureed red sauce with vegetables and heavy cream thrown in at the end. Rather then mixing the meat throughout the dish like in a Bolognese, I made meatballs. I figured this way they’d be easy to remove if someone should prefer their pasta meatless.

The recipe that I referenced to create this sauce is from Cooking Light’s new “Annual Recipe” book. They suggest that you puree the vegetables in a food processor but our processor is tiny and it would have been far too time consuming to keep transferring the sauce in batches. Instead, I pureed the vegetables before putting them in the pot and then used an immersion blender to create consistency. (Alex was not too happy about this immersion blender idea since we didn’t own one and he had to bear the cold windy weather and make a trip to Economy Hardware to buy one for me.)

For the meatballs we used ground lamb and ground beef. If I made this recipe again I would use ground chicken and turkey instead. I think that the lighter mixture of meat would better compliment the sauce. One thing I ALWAYS make sure to do when creating meatballs is to add a slice of bread that has soaked in milk. This trick is one of my favorites but it must be followed by a frying in olive oil. This way, the meatballs have a crispy brown outside and a soft center. They are truly delicious.

If I made this dish again I’d also be sure to throw in some red pepper flakes and Tabasco sauce. It was homey and comforting as is but I like when there’s a bit more bite. There is nothing better then a thick pasta sauce that makes your nose run!

Creamy Spaghetti Sauce:

2 16-ounce cans of diced tomatoes pureed in the food processor (I used one plain and one fire roasted as I like a bit of Smokey flavor.)
2 carrots, cleaned & pureed
6 stalks of celery, cleaned & pureed
3 cloves of garlic, pureed
1 medium white onion, pureed
1 tbsp coriander seed
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
¼ cup of heavy cream / half & half

Puree all vegetables and mix in pot. Place pot over medium heat and add spices. Cover and let simmer for at least thirty minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves then add heavy cream and mix with an immersion blender until a smooth consistency is reached. Serve over thin pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Mini Meatballs:

½ pound ground lamb
½ pound ground beef (93% lean)
1 egg
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 slice of bread soaked in 3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp coriander seed
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Mix meats together. Beat egg and add to meat mixture along with the cheese, spices, and sauce. Mix completely. Roll mixture into ¼ inch wide balls and fry in oil until brown. Place meatballs in oven safe dish and bake at 350 degrees for at least forty minutes. Serve plain or transfer to spaghetti sauce.

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