Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Meatball Island!

As promised, this post is about the continuation of a bite of Italy. Our friends Noel and Keith will be home from their trip to Italy soon and my Yoga teacher Jennifer is heading out next week for a three week sojourn around Italy. Given my love of the place, it is hard for me not to make some Italian food with so many of my friends going there! This is all about a Rich velvety long cooked Sugo with Turkey, Pine Nut and Golden Raisin Meatballs. It is really more Italian American than strictly Italian. One thing it is.... and that is delicious!

We had dinner guests and invited the youngest of them, 5 year old Emma Rose to be in charge of the Pizzettes (appetizer sized pizzas). I set up a little table for her and she took orders and delivered them after they came out of the oven. And then we sat down to a simple salad and the sugo, meatballs and rigatoni which had been cooking for two days. Emma Rose and her mother,  Leslie made one of the most delicious pecan pies I have ever tasted and we ate it with joy and whipped cream. It was a wonderful time of sharing food and fun. There are plenty of leftovers since I made a double recipe of Sugo. 
Sugo and Meatballs
This recipe was adapted by one from Lydia Matticchio Bastianich from her book Lydia’s Family Table. Let me just say that all of Lydia’s books are wonderful and if you like good Italian and Italian American food, you should check them out. I have been making this Sugo for several years and continue to evolve the basic recipe. This is the most recent rendition. This Sugo freezes well and I often make a double batch and freeze it. You will need a very large stock pot if you decide to do this, but the sauce is probably one of the most full flavored and intensely layered “red sauce” recipes you can make. It cooks slowly, reducing the flavor elements to a rich and velvety sauce that can be used in a variety of ways. My favorite is to pair it with one of two meatball recipes, but it stands alone as a beautiful topping for polenta, any dried pasta (ziti, rigatoni, spaghetti), fresh pasta (such as tagliatelle or pappardelle), with Gnocchi, in Risotto using the sauce with broken up meatballs), for Lasagna with the meatballs halved, for meatball sandwiches, as a pizza sauce sans meatballs. 

For the Soffritto

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions minced in food processor (about ¾ #)
4 plump shallots, minced in a food processor
3-6 fat garlic cloves, minced in a food processor (add more garlic if you like it)
2 large carrots minced in a food processor (about 1 cup)
2 large stalks celery, minced in a food processor (about 1 cup)
5-6 fresh bay leaves (if using dry 2 will do)
¼ cup tomato paste 
For the Sugo 
Two 35 ounce cans San Marzano plum tomatoes passed through a food mill (about 8 cups)

10 cups or more of hot turkey broth (best) or simple vegetable broth or plain water
 ½ teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves stripped from the stem
¼ teaspoon peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes), or to taste
Frying the Soffritto and Starting the Sugo 
Put the olive oil in the pan, drop in onions and shallot, place over medium high heat, stirring occasionally till the onions begin to sizzle. 
Scrape away onions to find a hot spot in the pan and spread the garlic to caramelize for just a bit and then stir in with the onions. Add carrots and celery, stirring. Put in the bay leaves and cook the Soffritto for another few minutes, until it starts to dry out a bit. If needed, you can lower the heat to prevent burning. 
Push the vegetables to the side and drop the tomato paste into a hot spot. Toast the tomato paste for a few minutes then blend it into the Soffritto. Pour in the milled tomatoes and the juices and stir. Clean out the tomato cans with a little water, gathering every bit of the tomato goodness. Bring the sauce to a rapid boil then reduce to a medium high heat for 5 minutes or so, until the sauce just starts to thicken. 
Pour in 4 cups of the hot broth, stir it in and note now the level of the liquid in the pan; this is now about the level that you will want the Sugo to be at the end of reduction, after the meatballs have been removed. 
Stir in another quart of the broth, and bring to a lively boil. 
For the turkey meatballs, submerge the cinnamon sticks into the sauce. For the sausage meatballs, add the orange zest, fresh thyme and peperoncino to taste. 
Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a steady but gentle bubbling all over the surface of the Sugo. Let it cook for at least an hour or two, checking the pot frequently. The Sugo should be reducing steadily. If you find that it is barely reducing, increase the heat and move the lid ajar. If reducing too quickly, adjust the flame. Add hot broth or water to keep the sauce at the level you want. 
Make either the turkey or sausage meatballs while the Sugo is cooking. 
Have the Sugo at a gentle simmer over low heat when the meatballs are fried and ready to go into the saucepan. Have hot broth or water on hand if needed. Drop the meatballs in one at a time; fitting as many as you can in the bottom of the pan in one layer, but leave enough space to roll them around a bit. Drop the rest of the meatballs in to make a second layer. Add hot broth or water if needed to keep the meatballs covered. Stir very gently to mix the broth with the Sugo, taking care not to break the meatballs.
Cover the pan and raise the heat slightly to bring the Sugo back to a simmer. Set the cover ajar and adjust  the heat to maintain a steady simmer. And cook the meatballs for about 40 minutes. 
Turn off the heat and allow the meatballs to cool in the Sugo and absorb more of the flavor.  When cool, remove the meatballs to a large bowl. If the sauce is thin, return it to a boil gradually and cook it uncovered to thicken. Stir it frequently to the consistency you like. Taste the sauce and adjust any seasoning. You can serve the sauce and meatballs right away or package it to use in the amounts you need for different dishes. This will keep in the refrigerator for 4 days or several months in the freezer. 

Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins: 

1 1/3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt (more to taste)
4 slices of dried white bread from an Italian Loaf
1-2 cups milk
3 # ground turkey meat
3 large eggs well beaten with a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons porcini powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup golden raisins plumped in warm water and drained (might try using currants sometime too!)
¾ cup pine nuts toasted in a dry skillet
Pour the olive oil into a medium skillet, add onions and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir at medium high heat until they begin to sizzle, then turn down the heat. Find a hot spot to add the garlic and allow to caramelize for a minute and then stir into the onions. Once the onion is wilted and slightly dry, scrape out of the pan and allow to cool. 
Break up the bread into small pieces, about an inch or two across. You should have about 4 cups at this point. Pour enough milk to cover the bread and allow the bread to soak up the milk for about 5 minutes. When the pieces are completely soft, gather them in your hands and squeeze the excess milk from the bread. In the end you should have about 1 cup of moist, densely packed bread. Give the milk to your kitty.
 Loosen up the turkey meat spread it out in a large mixing bowl. Pour the beaten eggs on top, sprinkle in the parsley, porcini powder, salt and pepper. Scatter the drained raisins and pine nuts on the mixture and then the onions/garlic. Break up the bread, spreading little bits over the meat mixture. Fold, toss & squeeze the meat and seasonings together with your hands to distribute evenly. 
Form the meatballs with an ice cream scoop or large spoon. Roll the balls in flour. 
Pour about ½ an inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet and heat on high until the oil is hot. With tongs, lower the meatballs into the oil and cook as many as you can fit while still leaving about an inch between the meatballs, turning them continuously until they are browned on all sides. This should take about 6 minutes per batch. As they cook, place on another cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt as they come out of the pan.
 Note: The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce. They are only fried until a light crust forms. After you remove one batch, turn off the heat and remove any browned bits in the oil with a skimmer before cooking the next batch. Add more oil if needed and return the heat to original temperature. Once all of the meatballs are browned, add them to the Sugo to continue cooking. This should take about 15-20 more minutes. 


Leslie said...

Oh my goodness, I'm enjoying it all over again! Truly delicious. I don't know if I told you how much I loved those meatballs....


Coconut Girl Connie said...

Thank you for sharing your delicious looking recipes! My girlfriend's Nonna was the first person who introduced me to Sugo, but her version was a brown meat gravy type. I assume that the Sugo can be different depending on the area of Italy you are from???

Devany said...

Leslie, a good time was had by all... and that pie... OH MY!

Connie, Sugo actually means sauce (or gravy), so yes, it can be more like a brown gravy and on the East Coast of the US, many people call sauce gravy! FYI: Italian Americans made a variety of *new* sauces and ideas when they had to work with limited ingredients, so Italian American food is in some ways different from Italian Italian.

Also, Italy was once made of "City States" for a very long time. Regional cooking there varies greatly depending on what local crops were available. And, don't forge that the first tomatoes came to Italy only a few hundred years ago. They are a "new world" crop.


natalia said...

Ciao ! It's funny to find an Italian recipe in such a different (and wonderful place ) !!! If any of your visiting friends needs help in Rome give them my e-mail !!

Debinhawaii said...

Hi Devany,

Thnks for stopping by my blog. 5 Spices 50 Dishes is a great book and I have marked the recipes you said you liked. I got a chance to take a peek at your blog and I am enjoying it and I'll be back. I have never had Sugo, but this looks amazing! Nice to "meet" a fellow Hawaii blogger!