Jamie Oliver's Meatballs and Pasta

I've been on a Jamie Oliver kick lately. Honestly, I've never paid much attention to him, thinking he was just another TV chef, until one morning I watched one of his 30 minute meals shows. "He's like a British Rachel Ray," I said in a way that meant I was probing my wife for her thoughts on the matter. What I liked about him most though is his more earthy, rustic dishes rather than comfort foods. I also really enjoyed his sort of slapdash cooking and plating style. That's totally me

Since then I've gotten a few of his books from the library and have had to renew them since they are all so full of excellent recipes. I've even started taking photos of the pages within because I know I won't get through it all before the books eventually have to go back.

So, last night was play with meatballs night. These had some new methods for me, such as using a mix of ground pork and beef. I usually only use beef, but the pork mix was great. I also have never used crackers for bread crumbs, only bread crumbs out of a cardboard can. It's difficult to distinguish the breadcrumbs from the can, so never again with the cardboard breadcrumbs.

The meatballs were 1/2 lb beef, 1/2 lb pork, 1 egg, rosemary, oregano, Dijon mustard, the crackers, and a little S&P.

I also learned a new, common sense method for making meatballs. Divide your large lump of meat into four smaller lumps of meat and then just keep dividing those smaller lumps down into 6 meatballs apiece to make 2 dozen more or less equal sized meatballs. By the way, that is my designated raw meat cutting board.

Usually I just grab an estimated 2 T sized hunk of meat roll it up and chuck it in the pan. My results were awkward sized and shaped meatballs that weren't all cooked uniformly. You don't need to hurry this way either.

A little more prep with garlic and onions diced up, and it's always nice to see fresh basil. Jamie's recipe calls for a dried red chile, like 99% of his recipes seem to do, but I'm omitting tonight because my daughter will be eating this. I'm sure the little spice would be excellent though.

Onion on medium heat with some olive oil. By now your pasta water should be on the burner and your meatball pan be preheating as well; med-high should suffice so they actually cook but not blacken the second they hit the pan.

Chuck your meatballs in. These are going to need about 8-10 minutes. These need to be cooked through - not necessarily shoe leather dead but there should be no pink in the middle.

When the onions are soft and lightly golden, add your garlic and basil leaves. I can't say I've ever used basil this way before. I believe the fragrance of the basil and garlic released here is the key to this dish. The red chile too if you're using it.

3 things working on the stove - now it's prime time. Add your tomatoes to your onion mix and a little balsamic vinegar. Bring the sauce to an easy boil. When the meatballs are ready add them to the sauce and let them simmer. My meatballs released a lot of grease because of the chuck and pork mix. I used a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs so all that grease didn't end up in my sauce. Heartburn city.

Your pasta water should be good to go - add a little salt and a pound of pasta. A trick Jamie uses is to save a mug-full of the pasta water just before you're about to drain and use it to loosen the pasta after it has drained. I find this also helps the pasta from absorbing so much any sauce you add to it making the pasta less pasty and dishes less dry. Kinda like if you wet your hair before getting into the pool your hair will be saturated already and won't absorb all of the chlorine water that turns your hair green (for us blondies).

And here we are.

The flavor of this was excellent. I found the only thing flawed was the pasta to sauce ratio. It almost seemed like there could have been twice as much sauce. The sauce seemed to just disappear, and it required a good amount of Parmesan and basil leaf garnish to dress those noodles with some flavor.

That could be by design though. We typically view pasta as just a soft, chewy vehicle in which to carry sauce and meat into our mouths, whereas this approach brings more life and meaning to the pasta. I could see how this would be especially true if the pasta was homemade. The co-star of the dish rather than the afterthought.

I had to force myself to eat slow.

Recipe courtesy of JamieOliver.com
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (I used about a tsp of dry)
12 soda crackers or Saltines
2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
1 lb ground, beef, pork, or mix (I used 1/2 lb each)
1 heaped tsp dried oregano
1 large egg
1 bunch fresh basil
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 fresh or dried red chile
2 14oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 T balsamic vinegar
16 oz spaghetti or penne
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil (I use veg oil for food allergy reasons)

To make the meatballs
 Pick the rosemary leave off the woody stalks and finely chop them. Wrap the crackers in a kitchen towel and smash up until fine, breaking up any big bits with your hands. Add to a mixing bowl with mustard, ground meat, chopped rosemary and oregano. Crack in the egg and add a good pinch of salt and pepper. With clean hands, scrunch and mix up well. Divide into 4 large balls. With wet hands, divide each ball into 6 and roll into little meatballs—you should end up with 24. Drizzle them with olive oil and jiggle them about so they all get coated. Put them on a place, cover and place in the refrigerator until needed.

To cook the pasta, meatballs, and sauce
Pick the basil leaves, keeping any smaller ones to one side for later. Peel and finely chop the onion and the garlic. Finely slice the chile. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Next, heat a large fryng pan on a medium heat and add 2 lugs of olive oil. Add your onion to the frying pan and stir around for 7 minutes or until softened and lightly golden. Then add your garlic and chile, and as soon as they start to get some color add the large basil leaves. Add the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil and season to taste. Meanwhile, heat another large frying pan and add a lug of olive oil and your meatballs. Stir them around and cook for 8 -10 minutes until golden (check they’re cooked by opening one up. There should be no sign of pink. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer until the past is ready, then remove from the heat. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions.

To serve your meatballs

Saving some of the cooking water, drain the pasta in a colander. Return the pasta to the pan. Spoon half the tomato sauce into the pasta, adding a little splash of your reserved water to loosen. Serve on a large platter or in separate bowls, with the rest of the sauce and meatballs on top. Sprinkle over the small basil leaves and some grated Parmesan.

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