Lidia Bastianich's Spaghetti And Meatballs

It's probably everybody's favorite comfort food: spaghetti and meatballs.

And on The Early Show Monday, the "Queen of Italian Cuisine," famed chef, TV host and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich, prepared her version of the classic dish, making it even more comforting! She also offered some different ideas on how to serve the meatballs.

Bastianich hosts "Lidia's Italy" and penned, among other cookbooks, Lidia's Family Table and Lidia's Italian American Kitchen. The recipes she demonstrated Monday came from those two books.

It was all Part One of a new Early Show series, "Comfort From the Kitchen," focusing on some of winter's best comfort foods. After all, in tough times, the tough -- eat even more comfort food!

Bastianich showed her classic version of meatballs, using a combination of pork and beef. But she's quick to point out that meatballs can be delicious made with anything -- ground turkey, if you want something lighter. Even fish. Or, if you're looking for an easy shortcut, go with Italian sausage: Simply remove the casing and form the meat, which has already been flavored with herbs and spices, into meatballs.

She also showed that meatballs can be served in a variety of ways: small meatballs for kids, giant meatballs as the star of the meal, or as an appetizer, served on a bed of vegetables.

A bit of culinary history: Smaller meatballs are more traditionally Italian; the huge, hulking meatballs you find in Little Italy and other red sauce capitals are an Italian-American invention.

There's really nothing out of the ordinary in Lidia's meatballs: beef, pork, onions, breadcrumbs, garlic, etc. But she focuses on the process.

After forming the meatballs, you roll them in flour to help them brown nicely, then fry them in a bit of oil. Once they've browned all over, you drop them into some tomato sauce and allow them to simmer gently for 30 minutes or so.

Bastianich makes a very simple tomato sauce; she says that, as the meatballs cook, they continue to add complexity to the sauce.

Now, the really important part: You don't cook the pasta and then mix it directly into the red sauce. You want to cook and drain the pasta, then spoon two big ladlefuls of sauce over the noodles and toss until the strands are just coated. You can then spoon some meatballs on top of the spaghetti, or simply pass the meatballs on a platter, along with some extra sauce.


Spaghetti con Polpette di Carne

Spaghetti and Meatballs
from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen
Makes 6 servings

For the Sauce:
Two 35-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Meatballs:
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 pound spaghetti
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the fine disc. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a 4- to 5-quart pot over medium high heat. Stir in the onion and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes, crushed red pepper and bay leaves, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the pork and beef into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the bread crumbs, 1/3 cup grated cheese, the parsley, and garlic over the meat. Beat the egg with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl until blended. Pour over the meat mixture. Mix the ingredients with clean hands just until evenly blended. Don't overmix. Shape the meat mixture into 1-1/2 inch balls.

Dredge the meatballs in the flour until lightly but evenly coated. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil and the vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Slip as many meatballs into the skillet as will fit without crowding. Fry, turning as necessary, until golden brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Adjust the heat as the meatballs cook to prevent them from overbrowning. Remove the meatballs, and repeat if necessary with the remaining meatballs.

Add the browned meatballs to the tomato sauce and cook, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, until no trace of pink remains at the center of the meatballs, about 30 minutes.

Stir the spaghetti into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, about 8 minutes.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Spoon in about 2 cups of the tomato sauce, tossing well until the pasta is coated with sauce. Remove from the heat and toss in 2/3 cup grated cheese. Check the seasoning, and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve the pasta in warm bowls or piled high on a large warm platter. Spoon a little more of the sauce over the pasta, and pass the remaining sauce separately. Pass the meatballs family-style in a bowl, or top the bowls or platter of spaghetti with them.

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