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'Two Meatballs,' One-On-One

Top chefs Pino Luongo and Mark Strausman are stirring it up again in the kitchen.

Over the past 20 years, they've collaborated on and off, and now the pairing is on again, as they share, and squabble over, their passion for Italian cuisine.

Their new venture, a TV cooking series and companion book, is in the works. It's entitled (what else?), "The Two Meatballs."

To illustrate their different approaches, Luongo and Strausman take part in a cook-off, on The Early Show Tuesday.

Luongo has been described as a "temperamental Tuscan who's reverent about Italian food," and Strausman as a "feisty Jewish guy from Queens who wound up as one of the country's top Italian chefs." Quite the matchup!

Luongo is co-owner of New York City's acclaimed eatery, "Coco Pazzo," and author of the best-selling cookbook, "Simply Tuscan." Strausman is chef/co-owner of Coco Pazzo, and executive chef at the glamorous "Fred's" in the Barneys New York store, and author of "The Campagna Table."

RECIPES

FROM LUONGO:

TAGLIARINI CON POLPETTE, FUNGHI, E PISELLI

There's perhaps no more stereotypical Italian-American dish than spaghetti and meatballs. Unfortunately, most Americans associate it with overcooked pasta and oversized, tasteless meatballs drowning in "red sauce."

This dish makes the idea of pasta and meatballs fresh again, with small veal meatballs, fresh tagliarini rather than dried spaghetti, and the addition of mushrooms, sweet peas, and mint. And no tomato sauce. It proves how much flavor and texture mushrooms add to almost any recipe.

3/4 pound ground veal
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil to fry the meatballs
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups White Button mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups fresh sweet peas or the smallest possible frozen peas
1/2 cup of vegetable stock
6 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 pounds fresh tagliarini
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Place the meat in a bowl. Add half of the Parmigiano, the egg yolk, the bread crumbs, garlic and parsley. Season well with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly but delicately so as not to compress the meat, which will toughen it. Shape the mixture into meatballs 1/2 inch in diameter.

Heat enough canola oil to cover the meatballs in a deep sauté pan to a temperature of 375ºF. (A drop of water flicked into the oil will sizzle on contact.) Lower the meatballs into the oil and fry them for 3 to 4 minutes, rotating to cook on all sides. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to paper towels to drain.

Heat half the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the peas, toss and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, the mint and the lemon zest. Cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning. Add the meatballs, toss well, and set aside, covered to keep warm.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve about 1/4 cup cooking liquid, then drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Over very low heat, add the butter and the remaining Parmigiano, and a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Taste and adjust the seasoning and toss thoroughly, drizzling with the rest of the olive oil.

A young, sparkling Prosecco from the Veneto may seem an unusual selection for meatballs, but because these are made with veal, it's the perfect choice here.

FROM STRAUSMAN:

SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS ALLA COCO PAZZO

Spaghetti and meatballs might seem like a strange dish for a restaurant like Coco Pazzo, but people are always looking for homey food, and everybody remembers eating spaghetti and meatballs when they were a kid. Strausman doesn't sauté the meatballs separately, because he says that stinks up the house. Plus, they stay much plumper if cooked slowly in the sauce. If you sauté them then put them in the sauce, all the flavor gets thrown out. Serves 6

Meatballs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced red onions
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
4 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing
3 tablespoons ground Sicilian oregano
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
2 eggs
1 cup pieces day-old sourdough bread, crust removed, soaked with 1 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed with a knife and peeled
1/2 cup red onions, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 large cans whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes with juice and seeds, pureed
Kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Pasta
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, then sauté the onions until translucent.

Place the meat in a large stainless steel mixing bowl and mix together with your hands. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients, through the parsley, one at a time, mixing them until thoroughly combined between additions. Mix in the cooked onions. When you have added all the ingredients, mix for 1 additional minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the sauce, in a large casserole pot sauté the garlic and onion in the olive oil.

Once the onion is translucent, add the tomato paste and sauté for 1 additional minute. Then add the red wine and the tomatoes and season with salt and crushed red pepper.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs. Take pieces of meat about the size of a ping pong ball and shape them in the palms of your hands to make small spheres.

Place the meatballs in the sauce and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. (Cut into a meatball to make sure they are cooked through.) Count the cooking time from the point when the sauce returns to a simmer after you add the meatballs. Do not let the sauce boil once the meatballs are added, as they will dry out and the fat will separate from the meat.

Just before serving, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti until al dente. Drain, transfer to a large serving bowl, and top with meatballs and sauce. Serve immediately.

Pro tips: In step 2 you'll want to test the seasoning of the meat mixture, but you shouldn't eat raw meat. Instead, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Pinch off a small amount of the meat mixture, roll it into a ball, and boil the small meatball until it is cooked through, about 2 minutes. This will allow you to taste the true flavor of the meatball, and you can add more salt and pepper if you think it's needed. Also, always keep your hands wet when rolling the meatballs so that the meat doesn't stick to your hands.

Serving suggestions: If you prefer, you can prepare this dish without the spaghetti and simply serve the meatballs in the sauce with lots of good bread.

Wine: This calls for a great Chianti. It doesn't need a murderously expensive wine. Don't buy anything in a straw bottle, but a good, low-priced Chianti is the way to go.