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   As soon as the barometric pressure starts plummeting and the clouds scud across the sky, there’s only one thing to do:  get out the braising pot and make a big batch of comfort food.

     You can always roast a chicken and recycle it into a chicken pot pie (using ready-made puff pastry, to save time). Or slow-cook a pork shoulder, then reinvent it as a yummy, pork hash the next day, and the next.

    But when I’m craving true comfort, I go back to my Philly roots and cook up a steaming   bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. There are not many cookbooks that honor this humble, Italian dish, so I was happy to see that  Joanne Weir riffed on this dinnertime classic  in her new  book, “Cooking Confidence: Dinner Made Simple.”

      Warning: these  meatballs are rich, with an extra dollop of ricotta and Parmesan mixed in with the pork and beef, breadcrumbs and spices. The cookbook also includes lots of yummy recipes for healthy vegetable, grain, bean and chicken dishes, plus tips for getting delicious food on the table in a jiffy.

Rigatoni with Ricotta Meatballs and Smoky Tomato Sauce

Serves 6

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 red onion, left whole, peeled

5 cups canned fire-roasted tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon sugar

4 sprigs fresh basil

Kosher  salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the meatballs:

1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet

½ small yellow onion, minced

 1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons milk

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ pound ground pork

½ pound grass-fed beef

¾ cup ricotta

1 egg, whisked

1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound dry rigatoni

Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the red onion, tomatoes, 1 cup water, tomato paste, and sugar. With the back of a chef’s knife, tap the sprigs of basil to release their juices. Add the basil and salt and pepper to taste to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until it reduces by one-quarter, about 1 hour. Remove the basil sprigs and onion and discard.

Make the meatballs: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the yellow onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 7 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic perfumes the air 30 to 60 seconds. Remove the pan and place the onions and garlic in a bowl.

In a second bowl, add the breadcrumbs and milk and stir together to moisten the breadcrumbs. Squeeze the breadcrumbs gently to get rid of the excess milk and add them to the onions and garlic. Discard the excess milk. Add the oregano, tomato paste, pork, beef, ricotta, egg and ½ cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix together until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Form the mixture into 30 meatballs about 1 ¼ inches in diameter. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake until brown on the outside, 10 to 15 minutes.

To finish the dish:  After the tomato sauce has cooked for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, add the meatballs and continue to cook until the sauce thickens slightly and the meatballs are cooked, 30 minutes. Stir gently and occasionally. If the sauce gets too thick, add additional water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and boil until al dente, 8 to 12 minutes, or according to the package directions. Drain and toss the rigatoni with the tomato sauce and meatballs. Place in a large bowl and garnish with the remaining 1 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano; serve immediately.

Serving suggestion: Start with a Caesar salad, and serve with a Sangiovese.

 

 

 

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