spaghetti-plate-croppedWhen my great Lord and Master of the house (ha) made condescending remarks about spaghetti and meat balls, did I wisely ignore him and recreate my mother’s masterpiece of Spaghetti a la Francaise or did I wimp out?  You guessed wisely, I never made a pot of that stuff for the first 22 years of our marriage.  After all the great Lord had been traumatized by eating spaghetti daily for a year while living off campus during his college years.

My mother’s spaghetti sauce was a work of art of wines, herbs and tomatoes.  It would sit for hours on top of the stove, simmering away while my mother would baby it by stirring, degreasing and tasting.  Finally it would make it way to our dinner table, a platter of the most heavenly smells.  The only issues I had with this concoction were the meatballs, which I avoided.

Now I’m not a huge ground beef fan, and meatballs was, in my mind, a close cousin to meatloaf, my arch-enemy. Nasty brown dry stuff, and it had legs.  It was in the stuffed  tomatoes, stuffed green peppers, stuffed zucchini; it was everywhere.  I’ll forgive mom for the stuffed veal; that was actually good but her meatballs needed help.  Everyone’s meatballs needed help.  When I’d order a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at the restaurants, I’d usually get this hideous meatball the size of my head on top of the plate of pasta.  Forget it, no more meatballs.

So twenty-two years later I was watching my Tivo’ed cooking shows and saw Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa, making meatballs.  To my surprise, they actually looked good; plum, dainty and juicy.  My memory of Mom’s sauce came back to tantalize me. The next day, with the recipe in hand, I went shopping for the ingredients.  Ground veal, ground pork, no way I have the time for that.  And the expense, just forget it.  Quickly I saw that the large breakfast sausage was on sale and so was ground turkey.  It will have to do for now.  Other parts of the recipe got streamlined and there was no way that I’d use a good bottle of wine on this recipe.   Also the recipe had to hold up in a salt-free version (my mother is on a restricted diet), so lots of herbs, not just parsley.  And the results, a family favorite, even from my Lord and Master.

INA GARTENS FABULOUS SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS – Sorry, Ina for the bastardization.  This recipe takes an active hour to make and an additional ½ hour to simmer.

There are 2 tricks to this recipe.  One is to add ¾ cup of warm water to the meatballs.  This keeps them very moist.  The other is NOT TO SQUEEZE THE MEATBALLS, but gently roll them into shape.

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound of breakfast sausage, like Jimmy Dean
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 4 slices of bread, rough chop (I’ve even used bagels (2) and the recipe works)
  • ¼  cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup of warm water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼  teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Olive oil or vegetable
  • Herbs from the garden – basil, thyme, oregano

Sauce

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced  or pressed garlic
  • 1/2 cup of wine – I use good cheap wine – 2 Buck Chuck if you are lucky to have a Trader Joe’s near you.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, plum tomatoes in puree, chopped or a good marina sauce.  If you have garden fresh tomatoes, that is even better, but they need their peels off (boil them for 1 minute and the skin comes off easily)
  • 1 – 3 tablespoon chopped herbs – parsley, basil, oregano, thyme
  • Several bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

meatball-platterDirections

In a food processor, place herbs, parsley and bread.  Pulse about 10 times until the ingredients are finely chopped.

Place the turkey and sausage, food processor ingredients, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and water in a bowl and combine, using your hands if you’re courageous. With your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour oil into a large skillet covering well the bottom. Heat the oil, placing the meatballs in the oil and browning them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes per batch (I usually have 2 batches-it’s a big pan). Don’t crowd the meatballs so that they can cook easily. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels.

saute-onions2In the same pan, add onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, herbs, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve on a bed of good spaghetti – I like Barilla or Trader Joe – and have some freshly grated parmesan cheese available.  Right now Reggiano is too pricy for our budget, but there are other similar hard cheeses available. Costco sells an excellent parmesan cheese that is half the cost of their Reggiano.  And don’t forget a lovely wine at the table (you can afford it, you saved bucks making this meal) and a fresh garden salad with a dressing from SaladSuccess.

Colmar is famous for its waterways and architecture.

Colmar is famous for its waterways and architecture.

Twenty-two years ago my husband Warren asked me “What is your mother making us for dinner, tonight”?  As I mumbled the words “choucroute”, I felt my heart sink.  “What’s choucroute?” replied Warren innocently.  “Sauerkraut“, I whispered.  Warren’s face fell, and a look of a trapped animal appeared across his face.  It was too late to cancel and escape from the doom of a sauerkraut dinner.

Now to understand Warren’s reaction, you need to know that his mother, Georgia, was a typical mid-western cook of German extraction.  Her idea to cook sauerkraut was to get it out of a can and fry it in a skillet.  An epicurean nightmare.  However, I, of the French mother, loved choucroute, an Alsatian delight in which the choucroute is cooked for hours in spices, wine, and meats.

So Warren, the captured prisoner of doom, sat almost in tears at my mother’s dinner table, hesitantly put a small amount of choucroute on his fork and swallowed.  Suddenly, his eyes lit up and a smile came over his face.  “No way, this is sauerkraut” he said, “this is food for the Gods”, and had two more helpings.  Now when we are touring around Alsace, Warren is always chatting up the locals to find out which restaurant makes the best choucroute and makes a beeline to that restaurant.

If you ever go to the Alsatian countryside of France in the fall, you’ll notice that cabbage is king.  Cabbage, potatoes and pork are the main staple of Northern Europe especially in the winter. And no one makes choucroute better than the Alsatian brasseries.  It is a delight and excellent for the digestive systems, so I’m told.

Now, every year we host a New Year’s Day party, and celebrate by serving choucroute and Riesling wines from Alsace.  In Northern Europe, it is good luck to start the new year with choucroute, and what could be better, than to make sure that friends start out the year on a good and healthy path.

So I part with you my recipe.  Bear in mind that choucroute is very flexible, so throw in as much pork, sausages, and potatoes as you want.  Warren loves the tiny sausages, I like Aidell’s Roasted Garlic and Gruyere, and Christie loves kielbasa.  I make mine in a crock pot and triple the recipe since my pot is holds 6 quarts. And yesterday, my daughter Suzanne begged me to make choucroute, Alsatian sauerkraut.  “Mom, I love it, it’s easy to heat up for school and it fills me up.  And make sure you make it with extra sauerkraut”.

The Real Choucroute of Alsace – approx. 4 hours of cooking

Ingredients

1 bag of sauerkraut – you can find it at the grocery stores in a refrigerated area near the

pickles and hot dogs.  MAKE SURE YOU RINSE the sauerkraut 3 TIMES

1 onion thinly slices

3 tablespoon of lard

1 pound (or a bag) of sauerkraut

Cup of white wine

1 apple coarsely chopped

10 juniper berries tied in a cheese cloth

Chicken stock

1 pound slab of smoke lean bacon

Several peeled potatoes

1 tablespoon kirch (optional)

4 smoked pork chops

4 high quality Frankfurt sausages or any favorite sausage

Heaping tsp. of caraway seeds

DIRECTIONS

In a Dutch oven or crock pot, cook onion and lard until soft.

Add sauerkraut and a dash of water.

Simmer mixture for 5 minutes, stirring often

Add wine, apple, juniper berries and enough stock to cover and cook on low heat for 3 hours

Add bacon and potatoes.  Cook for 30 minutes

Add kirsch, pork chops and sausages, and cook for a remaining 30 minutes.

Remove juniper berries before serving and sprinkle caraway seeds.

Salt and pepper to taste

Often I’ll throw in ham slices, a ham bone or hocks for flavoring.