Wednesday, June 25, 2008

East-West Spaghetti and Meatballs

This is from my cookbook of choice for the week, Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood by Ken Hom. I always try to pick a different one from my embarrassingly large collection of cookbooks for each week. Do I always manage to cook from it? Depends on how busy it is during the week. This week ... so far, so good.

I absolutely love this cookbook. Not only is it a treasure trove of reminiscences about growing up as a first generation Chinese American but so far it has worked every time. Yes you read that right. Every time. I wish that wasn't such a shock but I have learned through sad experience that however much I love Jean Anderson's cookbooks there is a 50-75% success factor in any recipe I pick of hers.

This is a variation on Lionhead Meatballs that Hom's mother served often. We found it to be a wonderfully light and refreshing take on spaghetti and meatballs. The water chestnuts chopped into the meat mixture were a brilliant addition, adding just a bit of crunch but not a "water chestnut-ish" flavor which both daughters reject out of hand.

I had a few problems since I used ground bison and it tends to get rather dense. It probably would work just as described below with regular hamburger ... or even a nice meatloaf mix. Also it wasn't until typing this recipe that I realized I shouldn't have just chopped up all that garlic and cooked it with the onions and ginger. Oops! It was delicious that way though.

I chose not to saute the meatballs first, not wanting the splatter and another pan dirtied. (I know, I know, but our dishwasher hasn't been working for months, ok?) I formed the meatballs and gently put them in the sauce to simmer. They were wonderful. However, I would have liked more sauce to meatball ratio and wound up chopping up my meatballs and mixing them in the sauce on my plate. So did everyone else when it came down to that. Next time (and there WILL be a next time) I will make a variation where I just pinch off little bits of the meat mixture into the sauce to simmer.

Serves 4

Tomato Sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onions
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (oops!)
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound ground beef
1 egg white
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 pound fresh water chestnuts, peeled and coarsely chopped, or 6 ounces canned, chopped (for the rest of us)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Potato starch, for dusting
4 tablespoons peanut oil

1 pound Italian spaghetti

Heat a heavy saucepan and swirl in the olive oil. When it is hot, toss in the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Then dump in the tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper, lower the heat, cover, simmer for 20 minutes and set aside.

Put the beef in a food processor and mix with the egg white and cold water for 1 minute. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Do not use a blender, which would make the mixture too dense. Then toss in the water chestnuts, soy sauces, rice wine, five-spice powder, sugar, salt, and pepper and mix for another 30 seconds. The mixture should be slightly coarse, with bits of the water chestnuts adding texture.

Divide the mixture into 16 equal parts and roll each part into a large meatball. Dust each meatball with the potato starch. Heat a wok until it is hot, then swirl in 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil. When the oil is hot and slightly smoking, drop in half of the meatballs, turn the heat down, and slowly brown the meatballs. Swirl in the additional 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the remaining meat balls. Drain them on paper towels.

Place the meatballs in the cooked tomato sauce, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package instructions or according to your taste and drain well.

Arrange the pasta on a platter, lay the meatballs on top, pour the sauce over the dish and serve at once.

1 comment:

QL7 said...

This is a fantastic recipe! Use a good quality tomatoes. Also the ONLY modification I make is that I use ground pork instead of beef. Thank you for posting!