Italian Night In
We had a pretty relaxing weekend, which is not very usual around here – either we are going somewhere, or someone is visiting, or we just have to drive the kids around – thus relaxing family weekends are very precious. It also means a family dinner. Coming right after the New Year’s celebration, with all the food extravaganza, it was not easy to come up with the exciting idea. But – when I said “how about meatballs”, that was received as a home run, therefore, the “Italian night in” was decided upon.
“Italian night” requires Italian wine, right? I don’t have a huge selection of Italian wines in my cellar, besides, I just have an idea of what I have, but I don’t keep any records, so finding the right bottle is always an adventure (which also makes it a fun exercise). One of the first bottles I pulled out happened to be a 2003 Barbaresco – and it looked like it would fit the bill perfectly. So the red will go with the meal, but I also need some wine to drink while cooking (cooking without wine is not fun, right?). My selection of Italian whites is almost non-existent, and a few bottles of Jermann I still want to keep, so I had to chose something else – as the result, I went for California wine – but made out of Italian grape.
I brought the 2010 Mount Palomar Castelletto Cortese Temecula Valley last year from one of my trips to California, when I visited Mount Palomar winery in Temecula Valley (Mount Palomar is definitely one of my favorite wineries in Temecula). This wine is made out of the grape called Cortese, which is growing in Italy in Piedmont, in the area called Gavi. The wine worked quite well as my cooking companion, showing ripe white fruit, apples and peaches, with a touch of perfume and hint of sweetness. Actually if you would compare this wine with any of the actual Italian wines from Gavi, you would find its sweetness a lot more pronounced (Gavi wines have a lot more acidity), but this is one of the attributes of the warmer climate wines, from the area such as Temecula. Also interesting was the fact that while the wine was cold, it had a bitter undertone, making it not so pleasant to drink, which went away as the wine warmed up. Overall, this was a decent wine. Drinkability: 7
And now, to the food. I made meatballs for the first time about 3 years ago, after extensively searching the internet for the right recipe. The meatballs came out very good – but I made a mistake of not saving the recipe I found. Any subsequent search attempts didn’t lead me to that one recipe, so I just had to come up with my own, just remembering bits and pieces. Considering my family’s unanimous and very enthusiastic approval (side note – I’m my own harshest critic – and this was tasty), I want to share the recipe with you, just in case you want to visit Italy for one night and save on the ticket cost.
Before I will give you a list of ingredients, couple of notes. First, I usually measure everything very approximately, so you will have to make adjustments for your taste and preferences. Second – yes, you can make substitutes, I’m just trying to give you a general idea.
Here is the ingredients list – the amounts are as I used them, you can scale up or down.
- Ground beef, 20% fat – 3.5 lb ( you can add or substitute with ground lamb)
- Ground pork – 1 lb (you can add or substitute with ground veal)
- 1 cup of bread crumbs – I use plain, but you can definitely used the flavored ones (you can also use old bread too, just soak it in milk or water before hand)
- 1 cup of grated Pecorino cheese (substitute with any other Italian hard aged cheese)
- 2 eggs
- fresh parsley (add or substitute with any other herbs – basil, oregano, etc.), well chopped
- 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large shallot (you can use more), minced
- salt, pepper
- olive oil
First step is to lightly sauté the shallot for about 2 minutes in the olive oil, using medium heat, then add garlic and keep sauteing for another 2 minutes – you just want to make the mix fragrant but not really fried.
In the large bowl, combine ground meat, bread crumbs, cheese, eggs, shallot, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix it all well (I use hands for that). Now, roll the meatballs. I like mine large – just to give you an example, I made 14 meatballs out of 4.5 lb of meat, which means that each meatball is approximately 0.3+ lb.
As the result, you will end up with something like this:
Take large cast iron vessel, put a splash of olive oil and heat it up to the working temperature. You will need to adjust the amount of oil based on the fat content of your ground meat – as you can see, I had quite a bit of fat content, so I needed to use very little olive oil – if you will use leaner types of meat, you might want to increase the amount of olive oil you will put in. Once the cast iron is hot enough, put meatballs in:
After another 4-5 minutes, I added two jars of marinara sauce, covered, reduced heat and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. Then – done! Just put it on top of spaghetti (which you cooked while meatballs were simmering), serve and enjoy!
So the only thing left for me to tell you is about the wine. Actually, outside of the fact that this is Barbaresco wine, as the label says, I can’t tell you much about the pedigree of this bottle as my google search yielded no result, or at least no result that I can understand (some of my readers know way more about Italian wines than I do, so may be someone will be able to tell me the story behind this wine, that would be great) – and I don’t even remember where I got this bottle from.
No matter. I decanted this 2003 La Pieve Barbaresco for about 2.5 hours before dinner. For the Nebbiolo wine (Barbaresco, same as Barolo, is made out of Nebbiolo grapes), this 10 years old wine had very dark garnet color (brownish color is usually a characteristic of even young Nebbiolo wines). Beautiful nose of violet, cherries and leather. On the palate – powerful, earthy, with more leather and dry cherries, good acidity, noticeable tannins, long finish – unmistakably Italian, perfectly fitting our Italian night theme and complementing the food. This was a very good wine, which I would gladly drink again (except that this was my only bottle). Drinkability: 8+
This is all I have for you for today, folks. Try the recipe and let me know if you will like it. Cheers!