Simple Pairings

spaghetti and meatballs

spaghetti and meatballs | simple pairings

Since summertime is essentially year-round here in California, I find myself occasionally nostalgic towards the colder-weather dishes I enjoyed with my family for a lengthy portion of the year back on the East Coast. Once the thought of spaghetti and meatballs crossed my mind, it wasn’t an idea easily shook; but for the sake of completely responsible journalism, I must admit that I didn’t really try that hard to shake it. It’s a dish that rarely disappoints, and seems to never really provide enough leftovers. It’s a recipe that warrants room in the arsenal of all cooks, from the most well-versed chef to the most sporadic of weekend cooking types. So I’m sharing today the spaghetti and meatballs recipe that has fueled the most diligent of igloo-building sisters, multiple occasions of a happily snowed-in family, and now – a sunshine-chasing West Coaster.

I generally used canned crushed tomatoes in spaghetti and meatballs, but I found some brilliant San Marzano tomatoes in the most recent shipment from Melissa’s, and decided that they were destined for a slow-simmered future, to be nestled over pasta, of course. The result was a serious infusion of summertime flavor into a classic colder-weather dish.

spaghetti and meatballs | simple pairings spaghetti and meatballs | simple pairings

spaghetti and meatballs
| click here for the printable |

Although this recipe isn’t revolutionary, it’s a tried-and-true classic that has never failed me. My twist on the classic is that I like to brown the meatballs in a high temperature oven, which preserves the integrity of the finished result without the extra effort or all of the mess. It gives you a chance to clean up the kitchen and set the table, and of course, top off your glass of wine.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

For the meatballs:
2 slices white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
1/2 cup buttermilk or 6 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 2 tablespoons milk
3/4 pound ground beef chuck (or 1 pound if omitting ground pork below)
1/4 pound ground pork (to be mixed with ground chuck)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
1 small clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Ground black pepper
vegetable oil for pan-frying (about 1 1/4 cups)

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups freshly crushed San Marzano tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), or 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Additional ribboned basil or parsley, for serving

For the meatballs: Add the bread and buttermilk into a small bowl. Mash together briefly with a fork, and set aside until a smooth paste forms, mashing every few minutes or so as it comes together as needed.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the oven rack on the mid-to-upper position, and preheat to 375 degrees F.

In a medium size bowl, mix all of the meatball ingredients together, including bread mixture above. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Lightly form about 3 tablespoons of the mixture into 1 1/2-inch round meatballs and place onto the prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining mixture to form approximately 14 meatballs. Note, preparation up until this step can be prepared in advance: covering the uncooked meatballs tightly and placing in the refrigerator until needed.

In a large stock pot, bring 4 quarts of water and a tablespoon of salt to boil to cook the pasta.

As the water boils, warm the olive oil oil over medium-high heat in large sauté pan. Once the oil is warm, add the garlic and sauté just until garlic is golden, only about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to boil, and simmer gently until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil; add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Gently nestle the meatballs into the sauce and simmer, turning them occasionally, until coated and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Cover, and leave the sauce over a low flame to keep warm.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente, drain, and serve immediately with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and basil or parsley.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.

chicken piccata

chicken piccata | simple pairings

I know, I know – we’re in the very midst of summertime, and it’s totally audacious of me to post a dish not built primarily of mixed greens, lettuce wraps, or the curiously très chic-but-I-still-don’t-buy-it zucchini noodles. I suppose that the timing really couldn’t be better, especially considering the fact that I’m following up a post on homemade white bread, but I digress. The truth is, all this summer playtime is leaving me hungrier than ever. The last thing I want after a long morning of surfing and inadvertent ocean floor face scrubbing is a fat-free, sugar-free, low-calorie cucumber and iceberg side salad, #holdthedressing. Can we just get real for a second? Here’s what we’re going for: wholesome food that’s deeply satisfying. After all, how are you going to fare in grueling rounds of Marco Polo when your “I’ll just have some carrot sticks, thanks” energy runs out? I think we all know.

Future olympians, summertime warriors, and casual sunshine enthusiasts alike – welcome to the category of summertime comfort food. After you’ve been scrubbed clean of all that salt and sand, there’s nothing quite like getting into clean clothes and sitting down to a well-deserved meal to restore your sun-soaked self. Preferably with a good glass of wine or a chilled cocktail, and always with even better company. Around here, we do Chicken Piccata. I made my pasta from scratch, channeling my inner Tuscan grandmother and sipping chianti, of course – but it’s certainly not mandatory. We can cover pasta 101 another day. Sunshine’s burning, people.

chicken piccata | simple pairings

chicken piccata | simple pairings

chicken piccata
click here for the printable

The comfort food of summer, this dish is brightened with capers and lemons but hearty enough to leave you satisfied in a way that a side salad never will. They key for success here is preparation at the beginning; get the pasta water boiling and all of your ingredients prepped and staged first. The bulk of the time is browning the chicken in batches; once that’s complete, it’s a quick finishing of the sauce and plating over pasta.

Serves 4
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 large lemons
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound), preferably organic, rinsed, dried thoroughly, trimmed of excess fat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons avocado oil (best for high-heat cooking; can substitute olive oil)
1 shallot, minced (about 2-3 tablespoons) or 1 small garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon) (I used shallot)
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth will work in a pinch)
2 heaping tablespoons drained small capers
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
Fettuccine or pasta of choice, for serving

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, set large heatproof baking sheet or plate on the rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees.

Slice one lemon in half lengthwise. Juice one half, and slice the other into 1/8-inch thick half-moons. Set the lemon juice and slices aside.

Place the chicken breast smooth-side up on a cutting board. Place your palm firmly across the length of it, and working from your fingertips to your wrist, very carefully slice the cutlet in half horizontally to yield two thin cutlets, each between 3/8 and 1/2-inch thick. Set aside and repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Add the flour into a wide bowl, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper, and briefly combine with a fork. Season both sides of the chicken cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Dredge each of the cutlets through the flour until coated, pressing with your fingertips to ensure you have an even coating, and shake off any excess. Set aside.

Warm a heavy-bottomed large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl the pan to coat. Add the floured chicken into the pan, only a few pieces at a time as to not overcrowd the pan. Sauté the cutlets, without moving them, until golden brown on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently turn the cutlets and cook until second side is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and transfer the cutlets to the warm tray in the oven. Return the heat to medium, add 2 additional tablespoons oil to the skillet, and heat until shimmering. Add remaining chicken pieces and repeat, transferring the chicken to the oven to keep warm.

Without cleaning the skillet, add the shallot or garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds for shallot or 10 seconds for garlic. Add the stock and lemon slices, increase heat to medium-high, and scrape skillet bottom with wooden spoon or spatula to loosen the browned bits. Do this somewhat gently, as to keep the lemon slices intact. Simmer until the liquid reduces to approximately 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and capers, and simmer until sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and swirl in butter until butter melts and thickens sauce; swirl in parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately over pasta.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.

homemade white bread from the bread machine

homemade white bread from the bread machine | simple pairings

So, let’s talk bread – freshly baked, homemade bread. Those of you reading this at cafes right now, working through the bread basket and the sweet cream butter on your lunch hour, you’re my type of people. I generally view fresh bread as a quintessential building block of a meal, perhaps alongside good wine and a crisp salad – certainly not an element to be shunned. The only thing better than good bread, though, is the homemade kind.

It blows my mind that bread machines ever, quite officially, went out of style. My take on the appliance is that it’s a total win-win situation; not only do you eliminate the need to run to the store same-day, but in only five minutes of measuring ingredients into a pan, you’ll have the freshest possible of loaves waiting for you. So if you can A) measure and pour, and B) plan ahead a few hours, go for the bread machine. All your hopes and dreams will come true.

Pro tips: This is for a basic white bread, because, classics. Make sure you opt for bread flour over all-purpose, so that your loaf doesn’t end up with a dense texture. The only thing more important than the type of flour you use, though, is the method in which you measure it. Don’t just shove your measuring cup into the flour sack with wild abandon, as you’ll pack so much excess flour into the cup that you’ll find your finished loaf of bread to turn out so densely that it will serve as sustenance for years to come. Swirl a large spoon throughout the flour sack to aerate it, and gently add spoonfuls of flour into the measuring cup, leveling the top with the back of a knife. Lastly, find the book you haven’t had time for lately, because you’ll need a distraction as the aroma of bread fills your house and you wait for one of the most magical chords known to man – the bread machine beep.

homemade white bread from the bread machine | simple pairings

homemade white bread from the bread machine | simple pairings

homemade white bread from the bread machine
click here for the printable

There’s arguably nothing quite like freshly baked bread – and that’s taken to an entirely new level when the bread is so fresh that it only travels a few feet to your table, rather than a mile from the store. Aside from filing your home with one of the most inviting aromas known to man, the process is made remarkably easy when you throw the element of a bread machine into the mix. All that’s needed is collecting the ingredients, measuring, and pressing start.

Bread flour is important here, as it will create a lighter loaf. Ensure that the measuring method used is lightly spooning the flour into a measuring cup and leveling off the top with the back of a knife. Ensuring that the proper amount of flour will yield a soft, airy finished texture.

Makes 1 loaf
Recipe from King Arthur Flour

For a small (1-pound) machine:
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
5 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast

For a large (1 1/2 to 2-pound) machine:
1 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup lukewarm milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast

Put all of the ingredients into your machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer.
Initiate the classic white bread sequence.
Once the baking process is complete, remove the pan. Let the loaf cool in the pan for about five minutes.
Using a kitchen towel to handle the hot pan, gently shake the pan to remove the loaf of bread. Set it on a rack to cool.

© Simple Pairings. All rights reserved.

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