Monday, March 07, 2011

Spaghetti with Meatballs and a Delicious Chianti

Spaghetti with meatballs. For many of us, one of the ultimate comfort foods. Not so much for me, as I haven't eaten this dish with any regularity since my mom made it for us when I was a kid. But maybe that's one of the things that makes it comfort food - it triggers memories of childhood.

My mother is quite good at many things, but she'll be the first to tell you that cooking is not one of them. Her meatballs were tasty, but they would be unrecognizable to any Italian mother or grandmother - they were probably just ground meat, perhaps a little salt. The meatballs that I now love, the kind you'll find at good red sauce joints, these are an entirely different matter. A great meatball should be light in body, texturally smooth, and well seasoned.

I'm sure there are as many recipes for meatballs as there are for pizza and I make no claim to having the best one, or any sort of secret, or anything like that. I have, however, discovered after many attempts, a method for making a pretty darn good meatball. Here's what I'm talking about, and bear with me through the ingredients. I'll explain later:

-1 pound ground turkey, but dark and white meat, not white meat turkey.
-1 quarter cup dried bread crumbs
-A little more than a quarter cup of fresh bread crumbs.
-1 large egg, beaten
-As much finely chopped parsley as you think is right.
-More finely grated Parmesan than you think is reasonable. Keep going. More.
-Salt. a teaspoon, maybe?
-Freshly ground black pepper.
-A bit of dried oregano, if you like.
-A bit of grated nutmeg.
-A little more than a quarter cup of warm water.

I've tried beef, pork, veal, and turkey in various permutations and never had results as good as with ground turkey. But it has to be good turkey, and it has to have a decent amount of dark meat in there. The fresh breadcrumbs are also key - they keep the meatballs light. The Parmesan, honestly, just put a lot in there. It provides umami, texture, and just tastes good. And lastly, the water. I kept getting these meatballs that tasted good but were completely wrong, way too dense, until I read somewhere that you must add warm water right before mixing everything together. Don't over-mix, and use a fork and your hands - gently. The act of shaping the meatballs will be part of the mixing too.

You're going to get about 6 meatballs here if you make them about 2 inches in diameter, a little more maybe. Brown the meatballs on at least two sides in a hot heavy-bottomed pan. Transfer them to a plate, dump out the oil, add a bit more oil, lower the heat, and fry about two tablespoons of finely chopped onion. There is apparently a big debate about whether to use garlic or onion in tomato sauce - Jeremy Parzen wrote about this recently (although I cannot locate the actual post). For me, it's onions, and only a little bit. Add a can of high quality Italian plum tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes, and I like them peeled and whole because I like to crush them by hand, it just feels good). Add salt and bring to a simmer, then add the meatballs and any juices from the plate. Simmer them for 15-20 minutes and then turn them over so the other side will be submerged in the sauce, and simmer for another 20 minutes. They should be cooked through, but you take one out and test it to make sure.

I like to serve these by cutting them in half, as they're easier to eat that way and they look pretty when you shower them with more Parmesan cheese.

The other night a good pal came over for dinner and I told him that among other things, we'd be eating spaghetti with meatballs. He brought a wine that I'd never heard of, the 2006 Castell'in Villa Chianti Classico, Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates. It should cost something like $25. The wine was immediately attractive to me in that it was very pure and detailed, unadorned with wood or overly extracted fruit. It smelled and tasted like what I know to be Sangiovese from Tuscany. The nose is lovely cherry fruit and also a complex leathery note, and the wine is perfectly balanced, very fresh, and entirely delicious. It is 100% Sangiovese and from what I understand, a traditionally made wine, but in poking around the interweb, I am not able to learn all that much about what they're doing at Castell'in Villa. Please share any of your Castell'in Villa knowledge in the comments.

We drank a little bit of many wines that evening and there was a solid half bottle left over. The next day I took a sip and it was still delicious, although no different from the previous night. But when another friend and I drank the rest of the bottle on day 4, also with spaghetti and meatballs, the wine developed a nice herbal character that I really liked. It was a fantastic wine, something that I will seek out and buy myself without question. And this is a good thing, because as you know from reading this blog, I just don't drink enough Italian wine. Now I have a good Chianti I can buy.


Timothy Lock said...

Reading this while drinking a bottle of Poderi Sanguineto I e II Rosso di Montelpulciano imported by Dressner...happy to see some others scratching the sangiovese/Tuscan itch! Drinking it with a pan-seared grass-fed steak with some cracked pepper and olive oil drizzled over the top.

Also, i'll give your recipe a try, but i've never found a turkey meatball i liked. Call me crazy (or maybe it's just having a grandma with a last name "Deprinzio") but i'll take beef/pork/veal every day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Castell'in Villa is one of the real great traditional producers in the Chianti Classico zone, some would say THE great producer. The wines age fantastically well. The 1975 and 1977 Riservas are both fantastic today. The 1986 Riserva is still much too young. I am somewhat surprised I never shared a Castell'in Villa wine with you, we poured the 1996 Chianti Classico normale by the glass for about a year. I'll tell you some time about how the soil is actually quite similar to Chablis. There are these marine fossils on the estate and stuff. The wine you had was all Sangiovese, but there is a Sangiovese/Cab blend as well. There is also a single vineyard Sangiovese that sees new oak barrique. The owner controls a small town, which is closer to Siena than Florence.

-Levi D

Anonymous said...

You can read a bit about Castell'in Villa in Neal Rosenthal's book. He used to be the importer.

-Levi D.

Clotpoll said...

I paid my rent by selling Castell'in Villa when I was with Neal. Ms. Pignatelli (who I believe is some form of royalty) only released wines when she deemed them ready, and the prices used to be phenomenally gentle, give the super quality. I remember her super-Tuscan, called Santacroce, being one of the 2-3 best wines of its type...not dominated by new oak or the Cabernet.

I believe Domaine Select is the import arm of the Batali/Bastianich empire, but I could be wrong. I know that all their restaurants seem to have had multiple offerings of Castell'in Villa on their wine lists for years.

Do Bianchi said...

Catell'in Villa is awesome... old school, all the way... one of the last holdouts in Chianti Classico...

Here's the piece I wrote about garlic vs. onions (for Tony's blog):

thanks for the shout out!

Cliff said...

I got it from Garagiste awhile back. Most of the comments suggested it was closed down tight, so I haven't tried one. But it sounds great

Brooklynguy said...

timothy - i am also surprised about the turkey situation, but it could just be the particular brands of meat that i'm using. anyway, YOU'RE dish sounds really good.

Levi and Dr. J - thanks for the info.

Cliff - for all i know, it might be closed down. it definitely was best on day 4. i assume you bought multiple bottles,so you can always check in on one.

michelecolline said...

Castell'in Villa is near Castelnuovo Berardenga in the far southern Classico zone but a bit further west than the town in an area of rolling hills and forests that conceal many estates and vineyards and even some horse farms(rare except for the Maremma). The town itself is more open and exposed(where Felsina is for instance). The winemaker is Frederico Staderini and they produce around 5,000 cases among at least 4 wines. There are 54 hectares of vineyards(the estate itself is much larger)apparently in several different plots. "Tradition" and "old school" are bandied about in the comments. Is 100% sangiovese traditional, barrique? I would prefer "old-school" style. I've only had the wines a few times but am I big fan as well. PS to Levi...there are marine fossils all over Tuscany especially at elevations around 300 meters s.l.m. like Castell'in Villa.

Nicole said...

Castell' in Villa is my favorite Chianti producer, hands down! Your meatball recipe sounds tasty. I'll have to try to replicate that sometime.

rhit said...

Just wanted to let you know that I tried this recipe a few days after your post, and it was magnificent. Thanks, man.