When I have friends or family visiting, particularly those with children, a spaghettiand-meatball supper is often on the menu. Young and old enjoy it, it's not costly, you can do advanced preparation and you can have fun creating an Italian-style atmosphere in your dining room.
In today's meatball recipe, I gave them a greater depth of flavour by using ground beef, veal and pork.
When mixing, don't do so vigorously, or the meat will compact and your meatballs will be tough when cooked. To ensure the meat does not stick to your hands when rolling, first moisten your hands with cold water to create a barrier between them and the meat. You could roll the meatballs in the morning, set them on the baking sheet, cover, refrigerate them and bake them later in the day when needed.
My meatballs, enhanced with garlic and herbs, were so full of flavour I decided the sauce they simmered in should be simple. All I used was strained tomatoes, also known as passata di pomodoro. This product is made by straining crushed tomatoes to create an ultra smooth sauce. Unlike tomato sauce, which might contain sugar and other ingredients, strained tomatoes are just good-tasting tomatoes flavoured with a bit of salt.
This product is most often sold in bottles and is available in Italian-style food stores and some supermarkets. (I bought mine in Victoria at Italian Food Imports, 1114 Blanshard St.)
Garlic bread goes well with spaghetti and meatballs, and today I adapted a recipe from one in the sidedish chapter of my book, Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. Roasting the garlic before blending it with butter mellows its flavour, creating a fine spread for bread. The roasted garlic butter mixture could be made in the morning, refrigerated and then brought back to room temperature when you are ready to spread it on the bread.
When you put the pot of water on to cook the spaghetti, preheat the oven for the garlic bread. When the spaghetti starts to simmer and cook, put the bread in the oven and it will be done when the pasta is.
To round out the savoury part of my meal I created a "make your own salad" buffet. To make it, you put chopped lettuce in a large bowl and set it on a serving tray. You then surround the lettuce with smaller bowls of whole or sliced ingredients your guests can use to top the lettuce, such as cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, celery, cucumbers, radishes, bell pepper and anything else you think might appeal.
You can serve the salad with homemade salad dressing, or cheat and offer a variety of store-bought ones.
To get an Italian restaurant ambience, I like to set the table with a checkered tablecloth and matching napkins. When everyone is seated, on goes some Italian music -Dean Martin, Louis Prima, Pavarotti, whatever you have -and a festive meal begins.
For dessert, keep things simple and offer a few types of gelato (Italian-style ice cream) and some Italian-style cookies, such as amaretti. Both are sold at most supermarkets and Italian-style food stores.
Today's recipes serve eight (or more if some of the diners are small children).
Eric Akis is the author of the recently published Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
To read previous columns by Eric, as well as restaurant reviews by Pam Grant, drink reviews by Garth Eichel, Pleasures of the Table by Pam Freir and more tasty recipes, visit our new Island Food and Drink page at timescolonist.com/islandfood
MAKE YOUR OWN SALAD BUFFET
This easy recipe allows your guests to top and dress their salad as desired.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: none
Makes: 8 servings
1 large (or 2 small) heads romaine, head or leaf lettuce, chopped, washed and dried
- 1-or 2-cup bowls of assorted salad toppings, whole or sliced, such as carrots, peppers, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower florets, red onion, croutons, bacon bits, chickpeas, baby beets
- store-bought or homemade salad dressings (see Pesto Vinaigrette below)
Place the lettuce in a bowl atop a serving tray. Surround it with your bowls of salad toppings. Set the tray and salad dressings on the dining table for guests to build their own salad.
This Italian-style salad dressing will add a beautiful colour and fine flavour to your salad. Pesto is sold at most supermarkets.
Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: None Makes: About 1 1/4 cups
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp pesto
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp paprika
- pinch crushed chili flakes (optional)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 3/4 cup olive oil
Place all ingredients, except oil, in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Whisk again before pouring into a serving boat.
SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
For added depth of flavour, these meatballs are made with three types of ground meat -beef, pork and veal.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: about 65 to 75 minutes Makes: 8 servings
1 lb. lean ground beef
3/4 lb. ground veal
3/4 lb. ground pork
2 large eggs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 (680 mL) bottles strained tomatoes (see Note)
1 cup water
1 1/2 to 2 lb. spaghetti
- butter or olive oil (optional) for tossing
- Parmesan cheese and crushed chili flakes
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a very large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the ground meats, eggs, breadcrumbs, milk, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix until just combined.
Moisten your hands with cold water. Roll the meat into 1 1 /2-inch balls and set on the baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes, or until cooked through.
While the meatballs cook, place the strained tomatoes in a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Use the water to rinse out any strained tomatoes left in the bottles and pour the tomatoey water into the pot.
When cooked, drain any fat from the meatballs. Add meatballs to the strained tomatoes. Bring to a slow simmer, and simmer, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the meatballs are rich and flavourful.
While the meatballs simmer, bring a very large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Boil the spaghetti until just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and place in a serving bowl. To prevent the noodles from sticking together, toss the spaghetti with a little butter or olive oil.
Spoon the meatballs into another serving bowl or serve from the pot. Serve the spaghetti and meatballs with Parmesan cheese and chili flakes.
Note: Strained tomatoes, also known as passata di pomodoro, are available in Italian-style food stores and some supermarkets. If you can't find it, you could use regular tomato sauce, or tomato basil pasta sauce, in this recipe.
Roasted Garlic Bread
Roasting garlic mellows and sweetens its taste and infuses the olive oil it's cooked in with a heavenly flavour. Once the slices of garlic are roasted, they are mashed in the roasting oil and then both are mixed into softened butter, creating a tasty spread for bread that's then topped with Parmesan cheese and baked.
8 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 16 (1-inch) slices of Italian or French bread (about 1 large loaf)
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the garlic and olive oil in a small baking dish.
Cover and roast for 20 minutes, or until the garlic is tender. Transfer the garlic and oil to a bowl. Mash the garlic into small pieces with the back of a small spoon and let it cool to room temperature. Add the butter and parsley to the garlic and oil, and mix until well combined.
Increase the oven temperature to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread one side of each bread slice with the roasted garlic butter. Set the bread, buttered side up, on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle the top of the bread with Parmesan cheese to taste. Bake the roasted garlic bread for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly toasted.