Tag Archives: Italian

Buying a New Car and Cheesy Savoury Meatballs: a tenuous relationship

10 Mar

I bought a car today. Apparently people think congratulations are in order, but I feel a bit more like puking than celebrating.

I find these big purchases that require loans from the bank are among the most stressful of stressful things, right up there with realizing, as you are halfway down the aisle with your ivory Nicole Miller silk shantung dress, white knuckling your dad’s forearm under a beachfront palapa in the Dominican Republic, that you really shouldn’t marry this person; or signing a mortgage in a fancy San Juan neighborhood that you are terrified of not being able to keep up with; leaning over for your epidural as you are about to become a single mother by choice and realizing you’ve never even changed a diaper…you know, life-changing, oh shit, what have I got myself into moments, irreversible, irrevocable, the type that you can’t later walk away from with a shrug and an “Oh well, that didn’t quite work out as I’d planned, let’s go out for a cocktail.”

That’s how I feel about buying a car. It’s worse now that I have that baby (I am a diaper-changing expert now, but don’t ask me to do it because we are DONE with that).  He is almost five now and barely lets me complete a thought, much less a major financial transaction. But, I did what I could, and picked out the make and model I wanted, and went through the no-haggle credit union thing, and found the right vehicle and test drove it, and decided it was the one. Then I filled out the papers, had my sticker shock and signed anyway, with my heart and breath stuck high in my throat.

I was almost done.

It must be five o'clock somewhere (Lorraine's pina coladas would be very handy right now)

Then the saleswoman just wouldn’t quit trying to sell me other stupid insurance-type shit to protect me from all sorts of dire consequences of all the things that could happen to my car that I wouldn’t be able to afford to fix if I didn’t have the insurance (didn’t I just buy the damn thing because it was supposed to be reliable?) and I asked her to please stop, but of course she didn’t. So didn’t I just turn into a puddle right in that stupid office?

Yes I cried, much to the astonishment of the saleswoman (not to me; I felt it coming a mile off), but at least she sort of stopped with the sales pitch in her frantic search for a tissue and I was able to collect myself, get out of there and go pick up Leandro at his friend’s house where I was fortunate enough to be able to leave him for a couple of hours.

All of this is apropos of nothing, except that when we got home Leandro suddenly began to feel a cold coming on, so instead of going to our single mom’s meet-up which we were both really looking forward to and where I was going to tell my tale of woe to a sympathetic audience and then have a nice dinner with Pam and her kids, we stayed home and so now I am telling my tale of woe to you.

That feels much better, thank you.

If you have gotten this far, it is actually a beautiful 2008 Honda CRV in a Royal Blue Pearl, with a gray interior, with about 26,000 miles on it, perfect for our active, outdoor lives, so the car is exactly what I wanted. Now I just need some help to pick it up on Monday…

As far as the food tie-in, well this is going to be  the lamest transition I will ever write in my life. It is bad, really bad, but hopefully I will never ever ever write another one as awful. So, with my apologies, here goes….

Since I am limp from the emotional wringer of car buying and loan-signing, I don’t feel like making dinner. In the freezer I have these delicious meatballs, which I made with my cousin, Lorraine, a couple of weeks ago (to be honest, she did most of the making while I sorted out my son for bed) and I am very likely going to throw them in tomato sauce over spaghetti for a hearty, comforting dish. And then, from here on in, it will be beans, beans, beans, until I can reasonably fit a new car payment into my sad little budget.

I hope you love them!

Cheesy and Savory Meatballs

2 ¼ Cup plain breadcrumbs

1.5 Cup buttermilk

1.5 tsp unflavored gelatin

3 Tbs water

2.5 lbs lean ground beef and 1 lb ground veal or pork (or a 3-3.5 lb meatloaf mix)

1 Cup very finely minced cooked ham

1 oz (about ½ Cup) Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano

3 large eggs

6 Tbs minced parsley

6 cloves garlic, minced fine

1.5 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Put oven racks to lower-middle and upper middle racks and pre-heat to 450°F. Set wire racks or slotted oven rack on 2 rimmed baking sheets covered in foil and spray with vegetable oil spray.

Mix buttermilk and breadcrumbs in a large bowl and let sit until a smooth paste forms (about 10 minutes. You can stir and mash occasionally during the ten minutes. Meanwhile, put water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow to soften for five minutes.

Mix meat, ham, eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and gelatin into breadcrumb mixture using hands. Pinch off and roll mixture into 2-inch meatballs (makes 48 or more) and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Bake until well-browned, about 30 (if you plan on cooking them further in a sauce)  or 40 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through.


Marinated Mini-Mozzarella Balls (Summer Buffet Dish)

4 Jul

Southern Italy has had a great influence on the population of the South Shore of Long Island. That means there are a number of stores here which make their own mozzarella. It is heavenly stuff; soft, milky, barely salted, and, if you get to Fairway, AS Pork Store or Uncle Giuseppe’s at the right time, it will still be warm.

No, it isn’t mozzarella di bufalá, the rich Italian water buffalo cheese that makes insalata caprese that much more delicious, but which is only available imported (that I know of). This is strictly cow’s milk – but what it lacks in texture and complexity, it makes up for in freshness and simple comfort.

And, you can always dress it up. Small mozzarella balls in their liquid can be purchased and made more interesting in a flash when drained and dolloped with your preferred pesto. Or you can try something a bit more adventurous and a lot more impressive (but still easy as all get-out).

Pay an extra dollar or much more a pound for pre-marinated ciliegi or try this! My version is fast and easy and has a lot going on, certainly worth the extra five minutes it takes to prep. It also looks quite beautiful. Summer buffets really light up with bright and colorful presentation ( I mean, I love potato salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw, but the range of colors often leaves a lot to be desired!)

If you can only find prepackaged mozzarella balls, use them! No sense denying yourself these great flavors just because you can’t get the fresh stuff. It will be fun and beautiful just the same!


Perfect for a summer buffet

Marinated Mozzarella Balls (spicy)

1 lb fresh mini-mozzarella balls, drained (about 2 cups). Sometimes called ciliegi meaning “cherry”

¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs finely chopped sundried tomatoes in oil, drained a bit

1 Tbs each fresh parsley, oregano, basil (or your choice of Italian herbs)

1/2 cup grape/cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes (if desired)

1 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

Salt to taste (only if mozzarella balls are unsalted)

In a bowl, add olive oil to mozzarella balls and stir to coat. Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Marinate, covered, at room temperature for at least one hour before serving. I find that the texture of the fresh mozzarella toughens over time, so for softest texture, don’t prepare more than two hours ahead. It still makes good leftovers though!

Aglio olio variations

28 Jun

Now that Leandro loves aglio, olio e peperoncino, I am milking the situation. I am adding all sorts of vegetables in the pasta water 3-4 minutes before taking off the boil and draining. Then I drench all of it in the ali-oli and spice! Leandro will now try anything if it is part of aglio-olio, so our carrot consumption is way, way up.

Fitting carrots into our repertoire

Aglio-olio veggie variations (serves 2)

½ lb pasta of your choice (with vegetables, penne or other short and fun pasta – wagon wheels, fiore, farfalle, fusilli –   are  a good choice)

1-2 Cups Mix and Match Veggies 1: roughly chopped broccoli florets/peeled sliced carrots/ peas – in pods or frozen or fresh/cauliflower florets/chopped asparagus spears/shelled edamame (basically, whatever vegetables you like or think your kid might try and that need just a bit of softening to be edible and appealing)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 Cup Mix and Match Veggies 2 (onion, peeled and chopped; or diced peppers: green, red, yellow, orange; mushrooms, chopped)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 to ¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano

Boil the pasta according to package instructions, making sure to salt the water well. Add Mix and Match Veggies 1 to the pasta water 3-4 minutes before the pasta is fully cooked. Drain and reserve in a separate bowl or the colander. In the same pot that you cooked the pasta, add the olive oil, lowering heat to medium. When the olive oil is loose and fragrant, add mix and match veggies 2, garlic and red pepper flakes (to taste) and stir around until the garlic is golden (not brown). Add the pasta and vegetables back to the pot and mix well, adding grated cheese. Serve!

Spag bog? Spag bol? Spaghetti Bolognese!

22 Jun

My dear Kate over in England thought I had made a spelling error when we were chatting via Facebook and I wrote “spag bog” as I was cooking this dish this week. I thought the same when she wrote “spag bol”. Turns out we are both correct in our not-quite-right-ness. According to The Times (UK), it has been called both bog and bol in England since the 1970s when Spaghetti Bolognese arrived in that country. The Times opines that the Brits were afraid to attempt to spell or pronounce it, so they shortened it to something more manageable for the English-speaking tongue.

Spag bog by any name would be a great pasta sauce. Basically a ground beef (mince, if we are sticking to U.K. parlance) and tomato sauce, there are probably almost as many versions as there are folks who make it. Marcella Hazan, a fantastic cookbook writer and teacher of Italian cookery, does a classic version that involves milk and suggests 5-6 hours of simmering. I used to make her version, when I was young and childless and didn’t need any sleep, but these days? Well, as you’ll see, this recipe is pared down to basics. Continue reading

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