Mama Mia! Chef Gary Explores His Italian Side

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The food from the Roman ghetto and Venician Jews is quite unique. It is not spaghetti and matzoh balls, nor is it meat balls and lokshen kugel. Today, however, I will begin with a basic Jewish interpretation of the classic spaghetti and meat balls. Instead of sauteeing meat balls and then finishing in the sauce, I recommend slowly cooking in the sauce from start to finish. It flavors the sauce and soaks up some sauce as it cooks.

(You may have noticed the change in title from “Chef Tell It Like It Is” to “Chef Gary.” While Chef Tell It Like It Is does both roll off the tongue and accurately describes my approach to all things in life, cooking included, we’re keeping things short and sweet from here on out.)


CHEF’S SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
Ingredients:
2 pounds of spaghetti
1 pound freshly ground kosher beef (85% lean)
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 large egg
1/4 cup fresh basil
Sprigs of fresh parsley, diced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste if needed
1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste if needed

Beef-Alternative Ingredients:
1 pound ground turkey
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 large egg
“Chef Gary’s kosher panade” (white bread, cubed and soaked in water or stock)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil
Sprigs of fresh parsley, diced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste if needed
1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste if needed
Sage and rosemary to taste

CHEF GARY’S FAVORITE ALL-PURPOSE RED SAUCE
Ingredients:
2 cans (28 ounces) of diced or petite diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin but not so thin they will burn
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil to taste

In your favorite skillet, place enough olive oil to cover the pan’s inside bottom. Over medium heat, sweat the garlic until golden. Sprinkle some salt over the garlic and oil. This draws moisture out and promotes sauteeing. Add the tomatoes and bring the heat up to high until mixture bubbles. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle some basil over the sauce.

Combine all the meatball ingredients in a mixing bowl with clean hands, gloves, or utensils. Form small to medium-sized balls. Gently drop meat balls into simmering sauce. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes. If desired, you can use a probe thermometer to test that the meat balls are at 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

(If using turkey, cook like the beef. Cooking time will just be a little longer; be sure the temperature of the final product is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.)

While the meatballs are cooking, cook the spaghetti in salted, rapidly boiling water, stirring often to prevent sticking. (Word to the wise: Never add oil to the water! This merely raises the cooking temperature of the water, and does nothing for the flavor of the pasta. It does, however, coat the individual strands of spaghetti, or other noodles, with a slick oily covering that keeps the sauce from properly adhering to the pasta.)

Drain the spaghetti, and finish cooking in the sauce. Plate the sauced pasta, placing two or three meatballs and some extra sauce on top. Sprinkle with freshly chopped basil.

The perfect complement to either the beef or turkey meat balls is salad. I recommend spring mix and arugula with fresh tomatoes and a balsamic vinagrette. Serve with very lightly chilled Chianti or Valpolicella, and mangiamo!

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