Friday, February 4, 2011

Cooking with Friends and Sicilian Meatball Comfort Food

There's nothing like cooking with friends to warm cold winter days, be it cooking for a gang (Superbowl party?) or just throwing things together to share a meal with a pal. Cooking with others goes back to pre-history when we huddled around fires in caves.  

My friend Catherine has been a great friend for many, many years and one of my favorite cooking pals.  She looks like Greta Garbo,  is nearly 6’ tall with inch-long eyelashes and naturally curly hair. Back in the day, Woody Allen tagged her to do a cameo as Garbo for Zelig  (when the real Garbo turned him down).  When I first met her I thought she was aloof, but realized it was her Slavic nature -- her beauty and her height that gave that false impression.  She is warm and funny and we became best friends.  I still call her Catherine the Great because she does have that regal carriage.  

She visited me often in the country, always bringing a sheaf of recipes to try and whatever she needed to make them.  We were polar opposites in the kitchen, she was organized and methodical and I was a messy whirling dervish (still am),  yet somehow we got along beautifully, cooking and telling stories -- usually drinking lashings of wine as we worked!

One weekend she brought a cookbook with her called Comforting Foods by Norman Kolpas.  In it, famous chefs shared their at-home favorites and the proceeds of the book went for a good cause...Project Open Hand in San Francisco (they provide healthy meals for those in need).  The recipe for Sicilian Burgers was in this book. I have made it a million times since, as burgers grilled outside, as meatloaf and as meatballs. All of them are spectacular and the meatball version is indeed comforting and ridiculously flavorful on cold winter nights. It will become a favorite of yours too. 

Sicilian Meatballs based on Comforting Foods recipe with Mushroom Tomato Sauce

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

1 finely minced onion 

1/2 cup dry white wine 

¼ c sweet Marsala wine 

1 small bay leaf 

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1 teaspoon salt 

1 ½ pound ground beef (I use Grazin Angus Acres grass fed and delicious!) 

4 pieces of smoky bacon chopped
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten 

1 cup bread crumbs,
¼ pound grated Romano cheese 

1 c  chopped fresh parsley 

½ c chopped fresh basil 

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in small nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add onions and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add wine, Marsala, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat to a boil, then simmer until most of liquid evaporates, 9 to 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until cold. Gently but thoroughly combine ground beef,, chilled onion mixture, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley and chopped basil.  Form into meatballs.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to several hours.  Sauté chopped bacon until fat is rendered and bacon crisp and remove. Saute meatballs in the bacon fat until cooked through and remove.

Mushroom Tomato Sauce

½ c dried porcini mushrooms from Marx Foods hydrated in water and 1 T cognac and chopped
1 28 oz can tomatoes (I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted)
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T Cognac
1 cup red wine
½ t hot pepper flakes or to taste
few sprigs fresh marjoram
few sprigs of basil

Puree tomatoes if you wish or leave them chunky.  Sauté the onion and garlic in the reserved fat from the meatballs. Deglaze with cognac.  Add red wine and reduce.  Add the tomato sauce, mushrooms and their strained liquid and hot pepper and cook to blend the flavors.  Add the marjoram and cook a few minutes more.

Serve with the meatballs sprinkled with reserved bacon and basil on spaghetti and additional Romano grated on top if desired.

Please don’t forget to step over to Aftelier for sweet-scented Valentine’s presents (or just for yourselves -- because you’re worth it). Her perfumes, teas and chef’s essences for cooking are the best in the known universe… and that’s not hyperbole! 

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday

For the Marx Food's challenge,  I would use the wasabi to make a dish that is part of a centuries old Kaiseki Japanese feast,   I would use the wild boar in a barolo slow roasted masterpiece on a bed of creamy marscarpone polenta, and the huckleberries I would use in a dessert and as a sauce for quails... is that one too many???


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Smoky bacon, basil and Marsala wine I believe I have found my weekend comfprt food.

La Table De Nana said...

I like the addition of cognac to your sauce..Your friend sounds so nice and interesting..

Fun post..i hope she still comes to visit:)

Miz Helen said...

Great Meatballs! I would love to invite you to bring a dish to my Full Plate Thursday. The linky is open all week end. Thank you for sharing and you have a great day!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I'd love to see that cameo of Catherine! She must really look like Greta Garbo to have been asked. She sounds like a wonderful friend and this recipe sounds equally as wonderful! Mama-Mia!

Linda said...

Girlfriend...all I can say is Yummmmmmmmmmmm...
Gorgeous pics..I want a bite now!

Anonymous said...

Great recipe and super photos. I'm your newest follower.

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Looks lovely and the cookbook sounds great! Have a good Superbowl Sunday.

Diane said...

Your friend sounds stunning. Your recipes are always fantastic and this one sounds really good for a cold winter evening. Diane

Emily said...

Catherine sounds amazing and so stylish! I bet you girls will have a great time cooking and hanging out. By the way I love how you photograph the food and drink on here - beautiful. What a great recipe.

Marjie said...

I don't make meatballs often, because I just don't have that much patience! Yours do look delicious.

I giggled at your description of yourself in the kitchen. I stopped in the middle of cooking the other night, and laughed at myself. I was juggling pasta, veggies, slicing roast beef and turnovers, and thought I looked like I was suffering a severe case of ADD or ADHD the way I was running around! You must have the same kind of "No Dog In Kitchen!" rules I do, since we both have giant critters lurking, waiting for handouts.

Jacqueline said...

I love your wonderful description of your friend. I could just picture her! How wonderful to have a foodie friend. Your meatballs look and sound fantastic. I love the little addition of the bacon to add that depth of flavor. The sauce sounds wonderful too, what time did you say to be over?!!

Julian said...

Another yummy post. Nothing like cooking with a good friend.

I thought of you today when I saw the new book "Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art". I suppose you may have already read it. I'm wanting to get a copy for my long flight to India later this week. Should be a fun read.

Ken Albala said...

Now I'm trying to picture Greta Garbo eating meatballs. OH, some things are just too sexy to imagine.

andrew1860 said...

I love cooking with friends, Greta Garbo and meatballs a good combination.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a lovely tribute to your friends and the dish looks like pure comfort food! I adore meatballs and this recipe looks like a real winner :D

Barbara said...

Such fun to have a friend like Catherine! And that you two get along so well in the kitchen. I am not a fanatic about organization in the kitchen, but have found I'm getting neater as I get older and my kitchens get smaller. :)
The meatballs look wonderful; you and I are on the same wavelength re cognac and marsala!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh GOSH I could eat a good "gravy" on cardboard....teeeheeee! For a while there, I was eating tomato sauce DAILY and I started turning a bit "tanned" in the middle of winter! Too much vitamin A I suppose, but YUMMMMMM! Oh dearest Deana, your comments are so dear. Isn't it true that when you make an effort with the smallest things, it can make a HUGE DIFFERENCE? I found Parisians to be KIND! But of course, I speak French and I remembered to say BONJOUR MONSIEUR, BONJOUR MADAME upon entering any boutique! What does it take to be kind, n'est-ce pas? Oh, I think I have another idea for a blog post...Enjoy your weekend, eat some comfort food with a loved one and relax my dear friend. Fondly, Anita

pierre said...

SO scrumptious !!!Pierre

Tasty Trix said...

Oh my those meatballs ... I haven't had pasta with meatballs since I started eating meat again! This looks like the ticket .. I just need to get some Rat Pack music because every time I make an Italian dish I want to hear some ... I believe in themed music to cooking, even if it is cliche. (And your chorizo suggestion for the tortilla is spot on by the way.)

From the Kitchen said...

Marsala in meatballs? Yes, please!! The dish looks and sounds delicious. The best part is cooking with Catherine while enjoying "lashings of wine". I assure you that this recipe, with the requisite "lashings", will warm our winter table very soon.


Unknown said...

How wonderful to share such a delicious recipe with such a good friend, and now share it with us :D.
Hope you have a fantastic weekend.
*kisses* HH

Paula said...

I can`t stop looking at this! It`s absolutely divine and I want to try this…

Have a great time,

Ana Powell said...

Lovely words, deep and profound.
This was pretty good. My favorite meatball recipe!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

IMHO, Marjoram is completely underused. Nice photos - I've never added cognac to my meatballs, but perhaps I will give it a try sometime. Great post.


Julian said...

Making the meatballs tonight. Smell yummy!

Anonymous said...

These meatballs sound so good, I like the smoky bacon in them and the tomato mushroom sauce must be fantastic! I haven't had meatballs in a very long time, must fix that soon!

Fresh Local and Best said...

This plate of chunky meatballs looks so soul satisfying and delicious! What a wonderful dedication to your friend.

tasteofbeirut said...

I was mesmerized at first by the photo of Greta Garbo; she was beautiful of course, but this photo she looks angelic, like a madonna.
So nice to have a friend that look like her, when are we going to see her pic?
these meatballs look and sound grand, what with the cognac and all, I see we have not spared anything to make them unforgettable!

2 Stews said...

Longtime friends are treasures. Lucky you to have one who also shares your passion of cooking!

When I was in high school, I used to come home and make spaghetti and meatballs as an afternoon snack. (Thank goodness I was stick thin!) It has always been a comfort food for me, and especially stacked high with grated Parmesan cheese. I usually just wing it with the recipe, but I'll give yours a try. Thanks!

Peter said...

I was just yesterday thinking about meatball subs. How serendipitous.

Chef Dennis Littley said...

I think there is something just so wonderful about meatballs, especially when they are really good, when they have that bit of crust on them from being meatballs is an art unto itself. Your recipe for meatballs with that smoky bacon sounds wonderful, I can just see how all the flavors commingle and come to together to provide a taste sensation.
and a mushroom tomato sauce is a perfect compliment.
This would be a welcome dinner on my table any day!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Now that is one warm and hearty meal! I actually have this cook book. I'm going to dig it out again.

Megan @ FeastingonArt said...

I just made some meatballs recently as well, even though we just got over a massive heatwave, it is always nice to have comfort food.

Unknown said...

This is quite an inspiring post from Greta Garbo to friendship and superbly sauced meatballs, I enjoyed reading all of it. I like the fire roasted tomatoes and cognac in your sauce. I've never seen this cookbook, I will have to check it out, thanks . I've volunteered for Project Open Hand in the past, they put on a luncheon at a large hotel in SF to raise money for their projects. They feature local chefs who prepare and serve the lunch. I helped plate hundreds of lunches at the Ritz Carlton, met interesting people while we worked together, enjoyed a few laughs and were then all served lunch. I will save your meatball recipe, thanks again for sharing it;-)

Lacey @ said...

Just lovely. We'd love for you to submit this recipe to!

Mary Bergfeld said...

No pun intended but your pasta is perfect and those meat balls incredibly appealing. It was so nice to learn of your longstanding friendship and also about the cookbook. I missed that one and will have to search it out. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Faith said...

I loved reading about your time in the kitchen with your friend Catherine...sounds like you ladies have so much fun together! And what a beautiful, soul-warming meal!

Karena said...

Oh I cannot wait to make these and a most wonderful story about your friend catherine!!

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Art by Karena

The Food Hunter said...

Meatballs look delicious