Simple Food, Simple Pleasures
For those of you who’ve been reading this blog from near the beginning, you will most likely have caught my post about the Holy Trinity of Happiness. The Trinity is a philosophical framework that I came up with and adopted years ago and it is pretty much how I get on day by day. The short version is that one only needs 3 things in life to be happy: Love, expression and sustenance.
Cooking, for me, gives me the opportunity to satisfy all three criteria of the Holy Trinity of Happiness at the same time. I get my expression through the art of cooking, I put my heart into my meals and like to cook for others – the love, and of course I get the sustenance because I get to eat the food I make. Cooking at home is one way to synthesize the Trinity and it puts me in a state akin to zen meditation.
So anyway, I got a lot of interest and questions about what I made today both before and after the meal so I figured why not do a food blog once in a while. The good part is that this meal is very easy to make and if you’re a bachelor, like me, you will appreciate learning how to make this meal for when you want to cook dinner for a special lady friend like a real class act. The gentle heat of the main dish will cure what ails you if you’re in the early stages of a cold (which I hear everyone in Toronto is coming down with this week) – at least that is what my superstitious, folk-remedying Italian family believes. It’s also been said that the capsaicin found in chili (an important ingredient in the main dish below) is an effective aphrodisiac. Some even call arrabbiata sauce “Italian Viagra.”
Here is the recipe for the appetizer and main course I made. I left out the ratatouille recipe for now but may do a post on it later.
If you ask what the secret to good Italian cooking is I will tell you that it’s heart and tasting your food as you prepare it. You can really tweak the flavours by taking a small sample from time to time. Also it’s the simple things that really count. You don’t need to be a master chef; just use fresh ingredients and lots of TLC.
- 1/2 ripe cantaloupe – not sure how to tell it’s ripe? Just use your nose. A few days after you take the cantaloupe home from the store you can smell the “butt end” of it (where the vine was detached). When it smells sweet and flowery, it’s melon time.
- 3-4 slices of Prosciutto – I like to use San Daniele because they put a piece of paper between each slice so they don’t fall apart from sticking together when you use them.
This is stupid easy and damned delicious.
Just cut the melon in half, divide it into wedges, remove the seeds, and slice off the skin.
Then slowly slice each slice of prosciutto in half lengthwise and lay a slice on each wedge of melon. You have to cut the prosciutto slices slowly and carefully as they are thin and delicate – if you just race your knife across them it will tear up the meat and make it look like a s**t sandwich.
Arrange the wedges artfully on a platter as shown in the picture at the top of this post or just put two on each small side plate (I did both presentations for variety). Chill in the fridge until your guest(s) arrive. Eat the leftover prosciutto and melon slices. Smile.
Nus’ Fireballs (serves 2-3)
- 1 lb lean ground beef, pork, bison or veal (I used beef today)
- 1 small onion, finely diced (see tutorial to the right on the proper and easy way to dice an onion)
- 1 whole egg
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped (if you don’t have cilantro you can substitute Italian parsley)
- 1/2 a jalopeno, seeded
- 2-3 tbsp Bread crumbs
- Dried thyme leaves
- 2 tsp Chili or cayenne powder or to taste – don’t overdo it or the end result will be spicier than any of you mangia cakes can handle =) Use your best judgement.
- Garlic powder – DO NOT use garlic salt as it will make this dish overly salty and ruin your night.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- 700 ml of Arrabbiata sauce (see recipe below or in a bachelor’s pinch, use 1 jar of Classico or La Mollisana Arrabbiata)
Before you start WASH YOUR HANDS with soap! I keep a towel on my shoulder because I know that I end up washing my hands quite a few times during this process. Nothing ruins a dinner date like food poisoning, so wash up for crying out loud!
- In a bowl, use your clean hands to combine the meat, and all the above ingredients. The egg and breadcrumbs help to bind the meat together so they don’t fall apart when cooking. Start with two tablespoons of breadcrumbs and add a little more if the egg and meat mixture is still too wet after kneading it all together for a minute or two.
- Form small meatballs, about 2/3 the size of a golf ball, and lay as many as you can on a flat surface (i.e. big cutting board)
- Wash your hands again
- In a large saucepan (pot), heat up the sauce to medium heat, stirring frequently
- drop meatballs into the sauce, reduce heat to low-medium and cover. Stir occasionally.
- simmer for 30-minutes until meatballs are cooked through.
- Have a shower
- Have a shave
- Have a wank
- Wash your hands a third time
- Comb your hair
- Brush your teeth
- Put on a clean shirt and underwear
- Call your mom once in a while, for Heaven’s sake.
- Steal your roommate’s wine because you realized you forgot to buy a bottle and your date is at the door
- Put on some good music – swear to God, if you think Sade is the way to go, then cancel dinner and go back to step 9.
- Serve meatballs over linguine or spaghetti with fresh crusty bread on the side. (Parmesan cheese optional)
Tip: stir the meatballs occasionally by placing the mixing spoon against the wall of the pot and and and gently scooping up the meatballs from underneath to stir them. Be careful not to break the meatballs or you will have stroganoff. Try to cover as many with sauce as you can but don’t sweat it if you can cover every last one. The covering of the pot will take care of the cooking and bubbling sauce will cover all the meatballs anyway.
Basic Arrabbiata Sauce (serves 2-3)
- San Marazano tomatoes, the 13oz can (blended)
- 1 small can of tomato paste
- 4 cloves of garlic sliced thin
- one small chopped onion
- Crushed red pepper flakes. Start with 1 teaspoon.
- 3 leaves of basil sliced thinly
- olive oil.
Once you coat the pan with Olive Oil and heat add the garlic and onion and saute until tender. Mix in the tomato paste and simmer for 2 mins.
Now add the blended san marazano tomatoes and the red pepper and simmer for 20-30 minutes. After first 10 minutes throw in all the basil. I like to leave a bay leaf in the sauce and remove it before serving, but if you don’t have a bayleaf, don’t sweat it.
The red pepper heat expands as you simmer but you can always add more anytime during the simmering process or when you serve it over pasta.