Thursday, March 19, 2009

Upscale pasta and meatballs...

Last week I needed to make a special dinner and had a hard time choosing the recipe I was going to make. After over thinking too much, I decided to keep the concept simple with a classy take on pasta and meatballs... however, I'll warn you now that there was quite a bit of work that went into making this Bucatini All'Amatriciana with Spicy Smoked Mozzarella Meatballs dish (and no, I didn't name it!).

Before I got involved with any other parts, I got my hands dirty getting the stuffed meatballs together. Instead of tossing in the meat first, I waited to add that last and got the ingredients together that will flavor and bind them together to prevent over-working of the mixture. Jeff isn't the biggest fan of using raw onions in meatballs (textural issue), however grating them, rather than chopping them, takes care of that and still allows their sweet essence to flow through. Besides those onions, we also added chopped parsley, nutty Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, a few cloves worth of minced garlic, ketchup and an egg.

Besides salt and pepper, the meatballs were also seasoned with crushed red pepper, dried basil and dried oregano. Once that was completely combined, I added in the beef and turkey. Formed into balls (tablespoon scoops work great for this!), each meatball is given a divot to form a hole that we stuffed a cube of smoked mozzarella into. When you re-form the meatball, just be sure that none of the cheese is exposed so it doesn't leak while the they bake.

While those were off in the oven, I had a big pot of water on the stove coming to a boil for the pasta and I began the sauce. Once I had crisped a generous amount of diced pancetta (basically bacon, but not smoky), I scooped out the golden pieces and tossed in a finely chopped onion to soften. Garlic and more of those spicy crushed red pepper flakes were added and a minute later, I stirred in fire-roasted crushed tomatoes and those crispy pancetta bits. Left to simmer, uncovered, the red sauce slowly bubbles away until it has thickened. To sharpen the sauce and turn it a lighter shade, a handful of Pecorino Romano is stirred in once it has come off the heat.

The pasta used in this dish, bucatini, is long and thin like spaghetti (though a bit thicker), but what makes this different is the hole that lives in the center! I've never had a reason to buy this type before, but was pleasantly surprised when I was easily able to find it at the first market I looked in.

What I particularly enjoyed was the fact the pasta was not drowned by the sauce - there was just enough of the heightened sauce to lightly coat the pasta with a spicy note. While light in the texture, the meatballs added a hefty, filling bite that had me captivated as soon as I hit that hidden pocket of smoky cheese. While we thought the meatballs were delicious with a mix of beef and turkey (I'll be making those again... cheesy meatball sub anyone?), you could use all beef if you like or swap out the turkey for a more traditional meat like veal.


  1. I don't care how much time this takes to make. It sounds totally delicious--totally worth the effort. From the meatballs to the sauce, I love everything you've done with the recipe. I could eat this for breakfast right now it sounds so good!

  2. Is there any way of finding calories and sodium for your recipes for those on special diets. They all sound so good.

  3. This looks to die for! I am absolutely trying this recipe, thank you!

  4. Looks so good and comforting Joe! The smoked cheese inside the meatballs is a great idea (I have used regular cheese, now I want to try the smoked!).

  5. Elyse - I think I'd eat it for breakfast too!

    Anon - I don't have a program that can give me reliable information, sorry! There are placing on the web where you can input the ingredients and have it display the nutritional facts though.

    Heidi - Do let us know how it goes!

    Ana - I think the smoked cheese made all the difference... it was more unique and worked well!