Thursday, February 12, 2009

sketti and meatballs



I figured it’s about time I blogged about food again. Don’t you think?

My dog has been ill (this will segue into food-related content, I promise you). She was diagnosed with megaesophagus. Yeah, I had to look that up too. It all started because she was put on heavy duty meds for Lyme disease back in December (which we think she caught when we lived in Maryland). Right after New Years, she suddenly became lethargic and either wouldn’t eat or would projectile vomit everywhere. Fun, right? So we hauled her back to the vet, who announced that the projectile vomiting caused some friction of some sort in her esophagus, which is why she couldn’t keep food from going down. The vet said to keep her food and water elevated and she should be fine.

Vets don’t know shit, I tell you what. That is all the vet told me about megaesophagus (and then charged me 600 dollars for the privilege), and I’m beginning to think that vets don’t know anything about this condition yet are afraid to say so. Just admit that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. We all make mistakes.

Even with elevated food and water, my dog couldn’t keep the food down. We tried baby food, liquid vitamins, liquid dog milk. Within a week, my poor Loo had lost so much weight from not eating that she couldn’t stand up. One day i had to carry her up the stairs. My dog is an American Bulldog, not small, and I’ve never been able to carry her. But I picked her up, laid her on the bed, and broke down and cried. We thought we were going to have to put her down. Anyone out there who is a dog lover knows that this is not an easy decision to make. We are childless, so our dog is our kid.

That very day, I found a yahoo message board devoted to dogs with megaesophagus, and the correct way to care for them; and since then the change in my dog has been incredible. She’s back to her normal self; well, still with megaesophagus, which she might have the rest of her life, but I don’t care. She’s back to her quirks and her waggy tails and her stop/drop/roll in the street when she sees someone coming towards us and she wants to be cute (it works, by the way. People are instantly charmed by her goofy face).

We’ve been feeding her canned prescription dog food, mixed with instant mashed potatoes and rolled into meatballs. She is a big fan of the meatball, and I’m getting very adept at making them too. I attribute part of this to one night before Christmas when I made a vat of spaghetti and meatballs. I was rolling meatballs for what seemed like an hour. Little did I know I’d be doing this three to four times a day for a good long while.

I never make spaghetti and meatballs anymore, because I always had trouble cooking them. I always made them at least half-dollar sized if not larger, and they would inevitably turn out scorched on the outside and raw in the middle, or would totally fall apart in the cooking process. So I just gave up. But one day I was craving pasta like CRAZY – it was all I could think about. I grabbed Molto Italiano, Every Night Italian, Rao’s, and Cook with Jamie, and settled on the pappardelle with ragu of tiny meatballs in the Jamie book. I always had an aversion to tiny meatballs, thinking maybe they wouldn’t be flavorful enough and not pack enough punch, but decided to get over it (and glad I did). The hint of cinnamon and the zest of lemon really make this zing.

I hadn’t yet been gifted the squiggly pasta cutter, so I just made do with some boxed ziti. You can use any pasta you want, but I’m sure it’s stellar with fresh home made squiggly cut pasta. Mid meatball making, Ken and MA called to ask what we were up to for dinner, so I doubled the recipe, plopped it in the slow cooker once done, and brought it to their house.


pasta with a ragu of tiny meatballs - adapted from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver

your choice of dried pasta, or one basic recipe pasta dough
a good knob of butter
a good handful of parmesan cheese

meatballs:
1 lb ground beef
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
3 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
handful of parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon

tomato sauce:
3 to 4 cloves minced garlic
bunch of fresh basil, leaves chiffonaded and stems reserved
1 fresh red chili, split down the middle (you can use red pepper flakes, to taste, if you don’t have a chili)
2 14 oz cans plum tomatoes
swig of red wine vinegar
salt, pepper

If making fresh pasta, do that first. Several different recipes can be found here and here. For fresh, don’t cook the pasta yet, but leave it on well-floured surface covered with a kitchen towel until ready to use. Get a large pot of water on to boil.

Place all meatball ingredients in a large bowl; wash your hands really well and mix by hand. Roll into teeny tiny meatballs (I would say about the size of a nickel but no more than a quarter). Wet your hands every once in a while, as the meatballs will hold their shape better and the mixture won’t stick to your hands as much. Set to the side.

In a large saucepan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic, basil stems, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and red wine vinegar. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer for a half hour.

In the meantime, heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large skillet and add the meatballs, in batches so as not to overcrowd. Cook until they're browned, turning every once in a while, and let them drain on paper towels while the next batch cooks. When done with all the meatballs, add to the tomato sauce. Remove the red chili and check for salt and pepper seasoning. Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

While this is simmering, add a handful of kosher salt to the now boiling water and cook your pasta according to the directions on the box (for dried), or 1 to 3 minutes (for fresh – if you’ve done this before you will figure out how long it takes to cook – it doesn’t take long at all, so don’t walk away). Drain, saving some of the cooking water. Carefully toss pasta in with the sauce, adding the reserved cooking water if too thick. Add the knob of butter, the parmesan, half the basil leaves. Toss around gently and top with more basil.

Serve with garlic bread (that will be for another post. soon. i promise).

5 comments:

MODman said...

I too am a fan of Jamie. He may be a little a.d.d. for my taste but his recipes are very simple and loaded with flavor. He is usually on our weekly menu.

kim banks said...

hey i'm kim, very nice blog, and i am so glad your dog is ok!!!

french tart said...

MODman, i remember the first time i saw Jamie on tv and i thought, "This dude is just nuts. he's all over the place", but his recipes are great. i'm a big fan.

kim, thanks! i see you are from savannah. i lived in savannah in the late 90s, and i miss living there so much!

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