I spent much of this past weekend in the kitchen, experimenting with dishes I've never tried before. I started slow, with a simple French yogurt cake laced with blueberries and ground almonds, and on Sunday dialed it up a little with fresh key lime pie and spaghetti with meatballs.
Okay, I've made spaghetti before, and no - I didn't make the pasta from scratch - and yes, I've made meatballs before. But never together, as the classic Italian / Italian-American dish. I read through a variety of articles and recipes that debated the merits of various fillers and moisteners and meat options before deciding on a simple, almost plain-jane approach of beef meatballs seasoned with fresh parsley, a smidge of garlic and good parmesan. Next time I'll add a little salt, too, but I thought the salty parmesan might suffice.
Sauce for a dish like this is best left simple, too. I made a very basic simmered tomato sauce with a little onion and garlic, a light hand with the dried oregano and a heavy, heavy hand with the chiffonade of basil. Simmered with the meatballs, after they had browned adequately in the heavy cast-iron pan, it provided the perfect backdrop.
The finished dish was almost too pretty - I chose to serve Italian-American style, rather than with the pasta and meatballs as separate dishes, as the Italians do. Black stoneware plates topped with loops of white pasta, artfully arranged meatballs and just enough sauce to slick the noodles, once mixed. A little extra basil, black pepper and a grating of parmesan, and it was completely adorable. I probably would have admired it for a bit longer, but I was hungry. I need a digital camera.
The key lime pie (recipe from Cook's Illustrated) that we had for dessert was made from actual key limes, which are tiny, walnut-sized and not-particularly-juicy little fruits. I zested ten of them for a standard 9" pie (graham cracker crust), which yielded just enough zest but only half of the juice that I required. Fortunately, I had a few regular Persian limes around to pick up the slack. I now know why there are bottles of key lime juice available for the home cook - I'd much rather have a machine extract the tiny amount of juice available.
Key lime pie is traditionally topped with masses of whipped cream, but since I had some egg whites left over from making the filling, I decided to go for a meringue topping instead. It emerged from the oven with a beautiful golden marshmallowy top - again, picture perfect - but then, as it cooled, the meringue decided to shrink a little, and wept sugary tears over its surface. It was still tasty, but substantially less attractive to look at.