cooking. baking. recipes. eating out.

cooking. baking. recipes. home economics. eating out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Perfect Spaghetti & Meatballs

What is more basic and warm for an autumnal weekday dinner than spaghetti and meatballs? This simple, no-frills version has all the flavors one expects from this dish without adding any "signature touches" or incorporating any vapid culinary trends. In fact, this recipe was formulated by reading countless spaghetti and meatball recipes and reducing them to what was really important for the dish. Try this the next time you're not sure what to make but want to keep it easy. Or the next time you want to be a Nigella Lawson cookbook photo come-to-life: happy in the kitchen, drinking a glass of Chianti, gingerly crafting a dish you know will turn out perfectly. You won't be disappointed. Neither will the rugrats. Just keep them out of the Chianti, depending on your parenting style.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (or 1/2 pound each ground veal, pork and beef)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 large (2 small) clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1-2 Tbsp olive oil, filtered or unfiltered
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 large (3-4 small) cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup beef stock (low sodium if not homemade)
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/4 cup or a small handful loosley packed parsley leaves, chopped
8 large basil leaves, chiffonade

3/4 pound dried spaghetti
kosher salt

For Serving:
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Crusty baguette

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place the meat in a large glass mixing bowl. Add the Worcestershire, egg, bread crumbs, oregano, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.

Thoroughly mix by hand or with a fork.

Roll into 1-2 inch meatballs and place on a foiled, oiled or non-stick cookie sheet. You will end up with about 16 meatballs. Bake 12 minutes. Bigger meatballs will require longer.

While those bake, heat a pot over high heat in which to make the sauce. Add the oil and swirl it around the hot pot. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and reduce the heat to medium. Saute about 5 minutes until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more until fragrant. Always take care to not burn garlic.

Stir in the beef stock and the tomatoes, hand crushing the tomatoes as you add them. (It is possible to use a can of already crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos, if you want a smoother sauce.) Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes.

Add the parsley and basil and cook 5 minutes more. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a large pot of water over medium-high heat to boil for the spaghetti. Generously salt the water. A pinch, or even a teaspoon, won't work here. You will need to add a full tablespoon or more of kosher salt depending on the amount of water. Taste the water; it should taste like the ocean. Once at a roaring boil, add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain. Never, ever rinse pasta! Rinsing pasta strips away the starch so that the sauce cannot stick to the noodles.

Toss the hot drained pasta with a couple ladles of the sauce. Transfer the pasta to a pasta platter. Top with the meatballs and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with some cheese and pass the rest at the table. Serve with a crusty baguette, green salad and plenty of dry red wine.

You should be able to prep and cook this meal in an hour.

Serves 4-6. Or 3 big Italian-American men.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tartine's Fruit Tart

Tartine is, without a doubt, one of the finest bakeries in America and an essential stop on every trip to the Bay area. During my last visit to San Francisco - just a few weeks ago - nearly every morning began at Tartine. And why not? It's such a wonderful place, situated in the Mission near the Castro, full of sweet and bready smells, fashionable people and a line that, unless you get there early, can extend beyond the doors of this tiny place. But a line should be no deterrent.

Last Christmas, a friend gave me the Tartine cookbook, which I heartily recommend. It is lavishly photographed, beautifully laid out, and chock full of detail and kitchen tips. The book somehow gives one the precise feel for the actual place. The recipe below, with some modifications, comes from the cookbook. This is a simple, low stress dessert, perfect for entertaining and making in advance. The results are ravishing! Makes six 4" tarts.

Sweet Tart Dough
1/2 cup, plus 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour

1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth. Mix in the egg until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flour all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into six roughly even-sized pieces. Shape each piece into a disc about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap each in plastic wrap or a baggie and chill for 1 hour to overnight.

To line the tart pans, place a dough disc on a lightly floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, rolling from the center to the edges in all directions. Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn after every few passes with the rolling pin. Carefully transfer each circle of dough to a tart pan, easing it into the pan and pressing it gently into place. Never stretch tart dough or the sides will shrink. If the dough becomes too soft, it can be put back into the refrigerator to cool. If the dough tears, just patch with a little extra dough pressing firmly to make it adhere. With a sharp knife, trim the dough level with the top of the tart pan. Place the tarts in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325F. Once chilled, remove the tart shells from the freezer and dock (make small holes) in the bottom of the tart shells with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife. Place in the oven and bake 5-7 minutes. When the tart shells go in, make the egg wash. Whisk the remaining egg and salt in a small bowl. A minute or so before the tart shells are the desired color, remove them from the oven, brush the entire interior of the shells with the egg wash and return to the oven until you achieve the desired color and the glaze is set. A well set glaze provides a barrier between the shell and the filling which prevents the shell from becoming soggy.

Let cool completely on wire racks. Then proceed with the recipe.

Makes six 4" tart shells.

Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp. good quality vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup, plus 1 Tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Have a non-aluminum (glass or ceramic) mixing bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine mesh sieve resting in the rim.

Pour the milk into a heavy non-aluminum saucepan. Add the vanilla and salt, place over medium heat and bring just to under a boil, stirring frequently to make sure the milk solids do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. When the milk is ready, ladle about one third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Pour the egg-milk-sugar mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. For the cornstarch to work, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You can see a few slow bubbles. If the cream boils, though, it will curdle. Immediately whisk the cream through the sieve into the waiting bowl. Let cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release heat and prevent a skin from forming.

Cut the butter into 1 tablespoon knobs. When the pastry cream is about 140F whisk the butter into the cream, one tablespoon at a time, whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.

To cool the cream, cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface of the cream and place in the refrigerator. This prevents a skin from forming. Once the pastry cream has cooled it may be used. However, be careful not to overmix it once it has cooled. Overmixing will break down the starch and cause it to go runny. Pastry cream keeps in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Assemble the Tarts
2 half pints of raspberries
4-5 medium peaches
3 Tbsp. apricot preserves

Peel the peaches by dropping them, one at a time, into boiling water for about 10 seconds. The skin should then be easily removable. Cut the peeled peaches in half, removing the pit, then into quarters, sixths, or eighths, depending on their size. Set in a mixing bowl.

Have the tarts shells ready to fill. Spoon the pastry cream into each shell and smooth the surface with a small spatula. The tarts should be about 3/4 full. You may not use the entire pastry cream recipe. You don't want to fill the shell to the top or the fruit on top will cause the pastry cream to overflow the rim.

Gently scatter or arrange the peaches and raspberries on the filled tarts.

In a small saucepan heat the apricot jam or jelly over low heat until it is a liquid glaze. Strain through a sieve, if using jam, to remove the seeds and/or pulp. Brush the fruit with the glaze.

The tarts may be eaten straight away or stored for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Serve them cool.

Herb Garden Salad

One of my culinary heroes, chef Joel Robuchon, was propelled to fame by the tiny portions of an herb salad he serves all his guests at his restaurants in France. The salad is special because it uses herbs, not in the dressing or as a garnish, but as the foundation of the salad. Below is a salad inspired by Mr. Robuchon that is intense, flavorful and decadent. Every bite is a delight worth savoring. I had previously been hesitant to make this salad because, if you are buying all the herbs at the market, it can be expensive. Luckily enough, my doctor knows I enjoy cooking and brought me most of the herbs, fresh from her garden, that I needed.


1 oz. arugula
1/2 oz. frisee or curly endive, torn into natural pieces
1/2 oz. romaine, torn into small pieces
1/2 oz. spring mix or mesclun
1/2 head butter lettuce
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
3 sage leaves, chiffonade
1 small bunch chives, matchsticked
1 tsp. oregano leaves
1 tsp. thyme leaves
16 mint leaves


1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup filtered, extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. minced black truffle, optional

Combine all the herbs but the mint in a large wooden salad bowl. Keep cool while you make the dressing.

To make the dressing, disolve the salt in the vinegar in a small mixing bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the truffle, if using. Add the dressing just before serving. Toss and plate in small portions on lunch, dinner or salad plates or ramekins. Garnish each serving with two mint leaves and a drop or two of sherry vinegar. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.