Sunday, May 23, 2010

Visiting some Friends

Phew! Back home, and almost time to go to Balsalmo's for some pizza. That's right! We haven't Balsalmo'd yet today! So we'll be going in just a little while to get pizza. Meanwhile I'm here to write about yesterday.

J, this good friend of mine, asked me to go up to White Plains and visit his mum, M, and give her a hand with some computer problems that she was having. I duly did so and, after some to-ing and fro-ing, we decided that the easiest and most effective way to get her computers all straightened out would be to ditch one old one completely and replace it with a little eeeBox. The eeeBox could act as Network Attached Storage and, in a pinch, take over for the Vista-powered hp that is the main computer.

So I got the disk from the old computer last week and the new eeeBox during the last week. I had time to copy all the files from one disk to the other, and the AG and I made our way to White Plains yesterday morning.

It took about 30 mins to unveil the little ASUS eeeBox and connect it all up; M was amazed at the lack of size of the thing, as is almost everyone who sees them. Then I had to fix up the network, and do some other housekeeping, but nothing much, and we'd be ready to roll on deciding what could stay and what could go. Then came the surprise. M had to go out and I was being left to cook. Now I knew I would be cooking that evening, and had brought some things, but not totally alone in a strange kitchen! This may sound weird, but cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen is a very difficult thing. Nothing is ever where you expect it to be - in fact, nothing ever seems to be quite where you left it five minutes ago! In short, all the inanimate objects of the kitchen - like knives, forks, spoons, plates, can openers, etc. - all seem to conspire against you, and the ingredients appear to try to hide from you in order to sabotage your efforts.

Whatever! I thought: dinner has to be made. So I got myself finished on the computer side and got stuck in to the food side. The target was to be a traditional Italian-style tomato-based meat gravy to eat on some paste - target pasta last night was Ziti, although my personal preferences are Farfalle and Spirale.

0. Ingredients
Before starting, look at this list of ingredients. Best to actually do the chopping before starting.

1 lb Italian sausage - sweet 1 lb Italian sausage - hot
1 lb commercial sausagemeat (Jimmy Dean or Bob Evans)
1 lb three-meat mix (veal, beef, & pork).

1 large onion, chopped.
About 2 oz (three heaped teaspoons) chopped garlic (I use a jar from BJ's!)
2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes, opened
1 can of tomato paste, opened
1 egg, a bag or pack of breadcrumbs
Olive oil

Salt, pepper
Basil, Oregano, Bay leaves
Red Wine (not sour, but cheap is fine)
One Baguette (per four diners)

1. Make the Meatballs
First off was to mix together a pound of ground three-meat - veal, beef, and pork - with a fair amount of breadcrumb in a bowl. It's difficult to accurately estimate how much crumb to use because the idea is to get the meat to be somewhat dry, and how much you need depends on the condition of the meat at the outset. Once the meat mix is getting somewhat dry and sticky, beat off an egg, some salt, and pepper, form the meat into a cup, and add the egg. Now carefully mix the egg in to the meat mix, and add more crumb to help dry out the meat again (it'll be plenty wet with the egg!). Keep squidging and squeezing the lump of meat until it has a nice, pleasant, firm texture.

Now you have your meatball, you'll want to reduce it to cookable, edible pieces - meatballs. Make a huge ball and cut it into four; then do the same again and roll each piece into a ball, so you have sixteen balls of about an ounce each. That's about the right size. If you find that you have meatballs with gaping cracks then you'll want to squeeze them hard and roll them into cylinders and then back into balls and the cracks tend to vanish. You do want to get rid of the cracks if you can, or they tend to fall to bits during cooking.

2. Cook the Sausage
Next, we want to part-cook the sausage so that we can cut it up without having bits of sausage all over. Usually I get a pound of hot and a pound of sweet Italian sausage, each in one long sausage. This time I experimented and bought individual ones, in packs of five to the pound. They worked well and were easier to brown! Either way, don't forget to stab the sausages lots of times all over with a form, to relieve the pressure when they get hot.

I put them into a pan with about a cup of water and a tablespoon of olive oil - a strange mixture, but I'm looking to cook the sausage, not fry it. You get this up to close to boiling in the pot you'll use for the whole gravy in the end (so it's big enough to do all the sausage at the same time), and then add the sausages. Cook them, turning every minute or two, until they're good and cooked all around. Probably about 8 minutes.

3. Cook the Meatballs
Take the sausages out, put them on a plate, and reserve for a moment. Meantime, add some more oil, the chopped onion, and the garlic and set to a low heat so that the onion slowly gets to be translucent. As the onion cooks you should cut up the sausages. I cut them into thin pieces for sweet and larger ones for hot, so guests who can't take the heat know what to avoid. However you cut them up, cut them carefully with a sharp knife and you should find them only partly cooked, but cooked enough that they will cut properly. Oh by the way! run some cold water over each sausage before cutting - they stay really hot for quite a time, and burning your finger-tips really hurts!

After you've cut up the sausage the onion should be ready: add about a teaspoon of Basil and another of Oregano, some salt and pepper, and four large Bay leaves. Mix this up (you may need a little more oil) and let fry very gently for a minute or two.

Now add the meatballs. Gently!! Don't break them! Nest the meatballs in the onion - not on the base of the pan - and let them cook for about five minutes. Turn them over (tongs are great here!) and give them another four-five minutes before taking them all back out and setting them aside.

Now we've introduced the meatballs to the joys of herbs and spices, we leave them to finish cooking on their own while we start the gravy brewing.

4. Make the Gravy
You've got the onion-garlic-bits of meat mix gently simmering in the pot, so now add the pound of commercial sausage-meat. I've tried both of these brands and they both work well. Traditionally one would use sausage-meat from the butcher's, but butcher's shops almost don't exist any more, here in the USA. Use a fork or spatula to break up the sausage-meat and turn up the heat to get it to brown in all the herbs. You need to get it to break up into little bits - no large lumps, please!

Once you've got the sausage-meat all cooked and broken down into bits it's time to start some liquid. Turn up the heat and add about a third of a bottle of the wine! Stir it in and keep the heat up and it'll soon start to sizzle.

Once there, add the sliced pieces of sausage back in and let them cook in for a couple of minutes, before adding a can of tomatoes. Let this get hot, stirring well to stop it burning on the bottom, and then add the tomato paste and another third of the wine. Keep stirring and the whole mixture should start to bubble again, at which point you add in the last can of tomatoes. Get that hot again, and then turn down the heat to the lowest point possible and cover.

Leave for about an hour!

5. The Finishing Touches
ok. You've about 30 minutes left before everyone will be expecting food on the table. Get the water on for the pasta (don't forget salt and some olive oil in the water for stopping the pasta sticking together. Get the heat up under that water and also get the heat on in the oven - to about 350F!

Pour the meatballs into the gravy mix and gently submerge them. They need to come back out in one piece! Up the heat some.

Cut the baguette in four, and then slice each quarter to give a top and bottom half. Drizzle about a teaspoon full of olive oil onto each eighth of the baguette, along with at least a teaspoon full of chopped garlic (BJ's - I love you!). Put the baguette halves back together and lay on foil on a cookie tray. Cover the bread with foil too, but don't seal it off - the bread should dry a little.

20 mins to go: put the pasta into the boiling water, put the bread into the oven. Make sure that the serving dishes are ready and that the table is laid.

10 mins: taste the gravy: if it is too sweet, add some more wine. If too sour you can add some sugar if you like, but be very cautious! Too much would be bad! Remember: this is your last chance to tweak the taste!

0 mins: take the bread from the oven, plate, and serve it, maybe with foil over it to keep it hot. Get the pasta drained and into the serving bowl. Lastly, shut off all heat and start ladling gravy over the pasta - be careful of those meatballs! Every few big spoonfuls you should stir up the pasta mix to make sure that it's all well mixed.

Serve. Relax. Eat. Drink. Sleep and let the others clean the kitchen!

2010.05.24: P.S. I just got told that I have new socks. Admittedly they look like one was knitted in a straitjacket and the other fed LSD while growing, but they'll be warm and comfy, so who cares!
The AG rules - big-time !

1 comment:

Tola said...

you did a great job and it tasted great!