March 19, 2008

Just Another Meatball

I like meatballs. They weren't something that I experienced much of when I was growing up, but we certainly had ground meat patties (usually beef) and sauce, and that is certainly in the same family. Little meatballs, though...that was more work, although I doubt that my mother (who was willing to make individual meat pies with two-crusts and full crimping for our family of five) was afraid of a few minutes' more work. Perhaps she was merely constitutionally averse to the meatball notion, for some reason.

I don't usually use a recipe to make meatballs, but I do try to stick in some sort of flavour-family, and that occasionally requires some sort of organizational decision making. While I once made "Christmas Dinner meatballs" (although for a Christmas party, not for our actual Christmas dinner, I confess) using ground turkey, dried cranberries, and stuffing-seasoned breadcrumbs...if I could have found a way to get yams and brussels sprouts in there, I would have...I usually go with a more "what's around the house" mandate.

They always have garlic. They usually have some sort of egg or egg white binding them together. They always have more seasoning than simply salt and pepper. Sometimes I serve them on spaghetti, in the classic Italian-American fashion, reserving any leftovers for sub sandwiches the next day, but sometimes I like to explore the other alternatives. Most cuisines have something along the lines of meatballs, all varying in size, composition, and serving format. Even my filling recipe for gyoza - is something along the lines of an Asian meatball wrapped in dough.

The above-shown meatballs were a stab at cuisine from northern Europe. I was going something for a Danish feel, borrowing heavily from frikadeller, but I felt compelled to jump-up the seasoning a little with some powdered mustard seed and a wee pinch of allspice. The accompaniment was Red Cabbage with Apples, mushroom sour cream gravy, and basmati rice (my standard, go-to rice around the house). The base for the meatballs was a pound of lean ground pork seasoned with salt, pepper, the above-mentioned mustard seed and allspice, some grated garlic, dried breadcrumbs (panko), a good splash of heavy cream, and an egg-white. Fried in butter, because I am told that is the correct way, but with a little splash of canola oil to help keep the butter from burning.

While I can't make any claims to authenticity of a Danish meal (since the Danish half of my household would certainly set me straight if I did), it did have a lovely, northern European comfort food vibe about it, and was pretty darn tasty. The leftovers warmed up pretty well for lunch the next day, eliciting stares and sighs and outright drooling in the lunchroom. I bet they would have made a pretty good sub, too.

March 09, 2008

Refrigerator Triage (Broccoli, Blue Cheese & Walnut Linguine)

I'm usually pretty good at dealing with leftovers, whether they are remains of dinners that find new life as lunch (or are converted, via pasta, pizza dough, or tortilla into new dinners) or are the bits and bobs left over from various other culinary ventures. Both require a systematic approach and an aversion to (if not downright dedication to avoidance of) finding such things weeks later after they have mutated on their own.

I'm even better at coming up with reasons not to have to walk home from the grocery store in the rain. These two skills, scarcely related as they may be, were the genesis of last night's dinner.

In fact, I planned the dinner upon rooting through the fridge on Friday, and discovering that not only did I have a nice block of Danish Blue cheese that failed to make it onto the cutting board when we were last entertaining, but that I also had some good-sized walnut pieces and an impulse-bought head of broccoli (I know...) that needed using pronto. Since I also was feeling fairly lazy, it seemed the easiest thing in the world to combine these things into a pasta dish, and darned if I wasn't right! While we didn't have it for dinner on Friday, since it seemed even easier to go out for dinner by the time we were ready to get on with it, I liked the idea so much that I scheduled it for dinner Saturday.

It was a very, very good idea. I've heard of many combinations of blue (or bleu) cheese and walnuts before, including some pasta dishes, but I'd never seen one involving broccoli. It was every bit as easy as I thought it would be (especially with Palle around to crush the garlic and separate the florets), and even tastier than I imagined.

Next time I make this, because it is a keeper, I will probably serve it as a side dish next to a simply-seared strip loin steak (or possibly a chicken paillard) with a little spinach salad and a good glass of red wine. The broccoli adds a wonderful freshness to the dish, and cuts through the heaviness of the cheese and walnuts.

Broccoli, Blue Cheese & Walnut Linguine

serves 2 as a main dish (although, very rich)
or 4 as a side

1/2 lb. dried linguine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
100 grams blue cheese of your choice, crumbled
1 head of broccoli, sectioned into tiny florets
2/3 cup large walnut pieces

Cook the linguine in rapidly boiling, lightly salted water. While it cooks, heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet, and saute the garlic gently over a medium-low heat until mellow. Add the walnut pieces, stir well, and allow them to toast in the oil a little. When the pasta is ready, scoop it into the skillet with the garlic and walnuts, and combine thoroughly (a pasta fork is very useful for both the scooping and the combining). In the still-simmering pasta water, quickly blanch the broccoli florets for 20 to 30 seconds (I use a mesh spider-tool to hold them in briefly in the hot water, then quickly raise them) and add to the pasta. Sprinkle with the crumbled blue cheese, and stir through once more. Top with freshly ground black pepper, if you wish.