This is a food post just for the pleasure of it. Nothing exotic. Nothing particularly French. In fact, it's particularly American, by way of Italy. We all grew up eating and loving spaghetti and meatballs.
This is not Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti and meatballs.
Even me. I grew up in a small town in the American Southeast, on the coast of North Carolina. There were few if any Italian immigrants there. We started getting Italian food in the 1950s, about the time I started school. I remember Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Italian dinners in cardboard boxes — some pasta, a can of sauce, and a little cellophane package of grated cheese (I'm sure it wasn't really parmesan). Pizza makings in a box too: "Crust Mix, Pizza Sauce with Pepperoni & Grated Parmesan and Romano Cheese Topping," the Chef Boyardee web site says.
Then the management and cooking in our school cafeteria was taken over by a woman from New York City. Her name was Lorraine, and she passed away recently. She was my aunt's neighbor, so we knew her. And she made spaghetti, New York style. She also made lasagne. We loved the school cafeteria when she ran it, planned the menus, and supervised the cooking.
I took advantage of the drive-up butcher's visit to buy a big piece of lean beef on Tuesday. As I've said, all the meats he sells are of the best quality, but they are expensive. Buying from him is a once-a-week treat. I asked him what cut of beef he would use to make meatballs. He said basses côtes. I think that might be what we would call a chuck roast.
We have a meat grinder attachment on our stand mixer, and we almost always grind meat ourselves instead of buying ground meat at the supermarket or from the butcher. That's what we did this time. I cut the meat into strips and Walt ran it through the grinder. It weighed two pounds (900 grams).
Meanwhile, I chopped up three shallots and a hot banana pepper (which we grew in the garden and put up in vinegar). I added some Mexican oregano, which I brought back from N.C. a while back — there's a Mexican grocery store there now. I think the Mexican oregano tastes like thyme, really, and I like it.
I had about a handful of leftover cooked brown rice so I put that into the meat mixture, and I also added about half a cup of coarse polenta (corn meal), uncooked. It would absorb liquid and plump up as the meatballs cooked, making them lighter and juicier.
That was about it, I think. Oh, I pressed in a couple of cloves of garlic, and added salt and pepper. And some celery seed. I also put in a squirt of tomato paste out of a tube (we buy it in tubes, like toothpaste — very handy), and two beaten eggs. I mixed all that up with my hands and weighed it again: the scale read 46 oz.
I wanted to make fairly small meatballs, and I arbitrarily decided they should be one ounce each. I made one and weighed it, using one ounce of the meat mixture, and it looked about right. Then I just had to make 46 meatballs of that size. To do so, I weighed out, for example, 16 ounces of meat, shaped it into a log, and cut it into 16 pieces. Then I rolled each chunk of meat into a ball.
That's more than you ever wanted to know, I'm sure.
In a big non-stick skillet, I sauteed the meatballs in two batches in olive oil, covering the pan with a lid so that they would steam through and hold together. Then I drained them on a rack before putting them on to cook slowly in about 6 cups (1.5 liters) of tomato sauce. We have sauce in the freezer that we made last fall with tomatoes from our 2012 vegetable garden.
I called this "spaghetti" (often in France you see it written as « spaghettis », with an -s because it's plural) and meatballs, but actually we cooked linguine to go with it. Grated parmesan cheese. Olive oil. Good.
So what to do with the leftovers? The two of us obviously couldn't eat all that at one sitting. Today we're having meatball-and-tomato-sauce pizza.