EACH MEATBALLS CONTAIN… A TON OF AGE-FORTIFIED FAT-BITS AND TIME-CONSUMING FLAVOURS
Last night, as I unleashed the freezer-section dumplings onto my most festive-looking plate, as part of our mostly-take-out Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner that didn’t even get bothered to be removed from its cleanup-friendly plastic-wares, and watched the annual city-wide shelling of fireworks carried out by every other citizens across the Beijing sky… I realized something.
I am a lousy… lousy… content curator.
There’s… something wrong with this picture. Now is supposed to be the high-season for binge eating for most Asians, rivalling Thanksgiving in its contribution to glorified gluttony, a perfect cue for an Asian food-blogger such as myself, to abuse recipes like… banquet-style fried whole fish drenched in thickened sauce, or glistening red-braised pork ham-shank the size of my own thighs, or… or, at the very least, too much batter-fried sticky rice cake to regret over in the very next morning. But instead, I’m here talking to you about something as generic as… meatball spaghetti.
Well, I blame it on this. A 2 feet long monstrosity which I believe they call, who-the-hell-buys-a-whole-freaking-stick-of pepperoni, stretching its long leg into every last inch of leg-room inside my economy-class refrigerator for the past 2 weeks. It was a generous remnant from a lunch gathering and ever since, I’ve been struggling to put it to a just rest. On pizzas… in between sandwiches… blended into my Olay’s night cream. Then just when I was about one-lost-chapstick-away from rubbing it on my lips for good use, I was reminded of an old trick.
It was a never-failing method, inspired by an epic dinner spent in Lupa in the West Village of New York many years ago, a genius method to inject the kind of flavours only old age can produce, by blending dry-cured meat products into fresh food preparation. The very same method, using trimmed prosciutto fats, landed me on the most insanely flavourful meatballs braised in white wine that I’ve ever tasted. And I thought if it already looked hot in white, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t look even sexier in red, right?
So here, amidst the Chinese festivity of lunar New Year, comes the Italian pepperoni meatball spaghetti braised in a red wine tomato sauce. May not be the most promptly cued entrance, but each meatballs contain not only the usual suspects of mixed ground meats, breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano cheese, herbs and whatnots, but also a ton of minced pepperoni sausage with all its age-glorified fat-bits and time-consuming flavours.
There’s a complexity that only exists inside the cultivated molecules being farted out by a workforce of happy bacterias over a long period of occupancy, which is completely welded into the meatballs just after a relatively short period of braising. The fats get partially absorbed by the breadcrumbs within the meatballs as well as partially rendered into the sauce, deepened by just the right amount of red wine then heightened with a good dab of Dijon mustard at the end. It’s just not your regular, daddy’s Prego meatball spaghetti. It’s a time-fortified, age-defined, pepped-up meatball spaghetti that, consider yourself warned, might just be mean enough to hurt your grandmother’s ego.
So excuse me if I didn’t mention rice cake. Pardon my neglect for a CNY feast. Today, I’m afraid is just gonna be meatball spaghetti…
- 1 cup diced (150 grams) pepperoni sausage
- 1/4 cup (1 small handful) parsley leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/2 medium-size onion, cut into chunks
- 400 grams ground beef
- 280 grams ground pork
- 3/4 cup (50 grams) Japanese panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) grated parmigiano cheese
- 1 tsp ground cayenne
- 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 small celery stalk, finely diced
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3/4 cup dry red wine
- 1200 grams (three 400 grams cans) peeled Italian tomatoes, pureed in a blender
- 3" parmigiano cheese rind
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 tbsp chili flakes
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Chopped parsley leaves
- TO MAKE THE MEATBALLS: Preheat the oven top-broiler on high. Run diced pepperoni, parsley leaves, garlics and onion in a food-processor until they resemble chunky, coarse meals. Transfer to a bowl along with ground beef, ground pork, panko breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano cheese, ground cayenne, crushed fennel seeds, ground paprika, salt and black pepper. Gently mix just until even, then shape the mixture into 8 tightly packed meatballs and place on a parchment-lined baking-sheet. Place in the middle-rack in the oven and toast until golden browned on all sides (flipping once). Set aside.
- TO MAKE SAUCE: In a large pot, cook extra virgin olive oil, chopped onion, garlic, celery stalk, fresh thyme and tomato paste with a generous pinch of salt over medium-high heat, until the onion is soft and the tomato paste starts to brown on the sides of the pot. Add dry red wine and cook for 5~6 min until almost completely evaporated. Then add the purreed tomatoes, parmigiano cheese rind, bay leaves, chili flakes, honey, ground black pepper, and all the browned meatballs with all the juice and dripping.
- Bring to a simmer then turn the heat to low, cover the pot with just a small slit for steam to escape, and let simmer for 2 hours until the liquid has reduced by 1/3. You should give it a gentle stir once every 20~30 min to prevent burning on the bottom. Re-season it along the way with salt if needed. The stew can be made days ahead. Before serving, gently mix the Dijon mustard into the sauce.
- TO SERVE: Cook 500 grams of dried spaghetti a couple min BEFORE al dente. Drain and transfer to a large pot, then add enough sauce to generously cover the spaghetti. Cook for another 2 min until the sauce is slightly reduced and coating every pasta, then transfer to a serving plate with the meatballs on top. Scatter more chopped parsley and a generous amount of grated parmigiano cheese. Serve immediately.