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Making Meatballs and Pairing Red Wine

Recipe for Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

I can’t think of anything that brings people together better than food.  The notion of breaking bread goes back to biblical times.  However I’m sure the first time Ogg charred a hunk of brontosaurus, he invited Brugg for some and they told stories about when Trobb fell in the tar pit. Food, regardless of cuisine, transcends age, race, and political affiliation. That is why it’s very important to me that my son, now 13, not only gains an appreciation for good food, but also learns how to prepare it.
Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

You would think that when teaching a 13 year old to cook, I’d start with something basic like pasta or grilled cheese.  I’m a fan of the Go big or go home philosophy folks, so we went with Sicilian style meatballs.  It’s a recipe I found in Food & Wine September 2007 magazine, and after making once right after reading, I saved the recipe for future use.  My son helped me when I first prepared them, so perhaps there was a tie to the dish. We started by reviewing the ingredient list and reading through the steps twice. It is important to understand the steps and the order in which we will use the ingredients, as well as having everything ready before we turn on the oven.

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Before I give you the recipe, I will of course tell you about the wines paired with this fantastic meal.  My selection was Beni di Batasiolo 2009 Sovrana Barbera D’Alba. I paired this Italian red to not only stay on theme with an Italian meal, but also because the grape pairs well with the beefy meatballs while being able to handle the acidic tomatoes.  Like Ogg, I invited Brugg to break bread and share the meal.  Brugg is actually my friend Kirk, who brought his red wine contribution to the meal.  He chose a bottle of Heitz Cellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another wine option that works well with meatballs and tomato sauce.

The Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna 2009 is a Barbera d’Alba. The barbera grape is grown in various places in in Italy, and this one is from Alba, a region in Piedmont, Italy. The bouquet is full of dark berries, violets and the oak notes of spice like cinnamon. The palate is medium to full, and dusty old world flavors come across at first. Dried strawberries and dried raspberries mingle with white pepper. It’s a full flavored wine bursting with taste. There was firm acidity on the finish of the wine, and it lends itself to be a wine to pair with food.

Tasting notes for Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D'Alba

Pairing Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D’Alba

Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is a Napa Valley, California wine. The bouquet is gorgeous, a sensual nose of mocha laced dark cherries. There are subtle spice notes that waft from the glass as well. The palate is full, but silky. Beautiful notes of chocolate cherries, but not sweet. The oak aging fills the glass with lovely spices.

Both the Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna and the Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon wines work so well with a meal of meatballs and tomato sauce. One did not stand out over the other as a better pairing. The Barbera D’Alba from Batasiolo became a bit less acidic and fruit took more of a center stage with sipped after a bite of meatball. For the Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon, the sweetness of the fruit and mocha are a little more subdued with the meal.
Tasting notes for Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Sipping Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Back to the recipe. Your mise en place includes
  • Two 28-oz cans of crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Four slices of white bread
  • 1/4 cup of water (drinking quality)
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or currants
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons)
  • freshly ground pepper (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon died marjoram
  • 2 lbs ground beef (chuck)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

In a 5 quart or larger sauce pan, pour the Italian tomatoes in and season with salt and pepper. I added about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tsp of pepper, then added more slowly throughout the simmer, to taste. Add the 1/4 cup EVOO, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil (medium high heat), then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes (low heat).

After your sauce is on low and simmering, in a large bowl soak the 4 pieces of bread in the water. If you need less water to soak the bread, use less. If the bread is still dry, add a little more. Once the bread is saturated, squeeze out the water and place bread in another bowl. Mash the bread into a paste, then stir in the beaten eggs, garlic, parsley, marjoram, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mix until smooth and well combined. I like to stir the sauce every 5 or 10 minutes while mixing and rolling out the meatballs.

mixing the ingredients for perfect italian meatballs

mixing the ingredients for perfect Italian meatballs

Add the ground beef, cranberries (or currents), pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mix these ingredients until well combined. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, slowly add and mix in the bread crumbs. Kneed the mixture until it is firm enough to roll into balls.
You will roll the meatballs into about 36 meatballs, each about 2 to 3 tablespoons of mix. Tuck the pine nuts and cranberries inside as much as possible.I placed my meatballs on a cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper while rolling them out. Once you’re about finished, turn your oil on medium-high in a large, no-stick skillet. Did you remember to stir the simmering sauce?
roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

Heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. I check the oil by putting a tiny piece of meatball in. If it doesn’t immediately start to sizzle, it’s not ready. Once it starts sizzling, then you’re ready to cook.  Work in batches, placing about 10-12 meatballs into the oil at once. I recommend using a slotted spoon to roll them into the oil gently, to prevent splattering.
You’ll cook the meatballs for about 12 minutes, turning at least 3 times throughout that time to ensure each side is done. Never turn your oil past medium high or the meatballs will burn. Using a 12″ skillet or frying pan will allow you to place about 12 meatballs in it. A 10″ pan will of course accept less. Transfer the meatballs to a plate that is lined with paper towel, and continue cooking the rest of the meatball mixture.
using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatball recipe

using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatballs

Once finished, place all of the meatballs into the sauce. Again, use a slotted spoon to gently roll them in, to avoid splatter.
After all of your meatballs are in the sauce, allow them to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. I like to gently stir every 10 minutes to allow the meatballs on top to get to the bottom and continue to cook evenly.
delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

Personally I like this dish without pasta. Fill a bowl with a few meatballs and some sauce, sprinkle with a little more Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and serve. Some bread to sop up the sauce is all I like.  Robin, my son and Kirk all had some pasta with theirs and were quite happy. As for teaching my son how to cook, he made the entire meal, including frying the meatballs. He did so well, he went to his mom’s and made this awesome Italian meatball recipe it for her birthday the next week.  Maybe we will do Boeuf Bourguignon next!

Pairing Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay with food

Passaggio 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay with Shrimp Scampi

Passaggio 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay with Shrimp Scampi

Philosophers will debate endlessly whether food enhances wine, or wine enhances food. Frankly, I don’t care which enhances the other, I just know the two together are worthy of many words. My focus this year is definitely on the best food and wine pairings I can create, usually within a reasonable budget and amount of time. When Robin, my better half, decided to make Ina Garten’s Shrimp Scampi recipe from her Food Network selections, I knew just the wine in the cellar to pair with this simple, but delicious meal. I’ve held on to a bottle of Passaggio 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay for several weeks, a sample from winemaker Cynthia Cosco, and was excited to serve it up! Was this $16 white wine palatable, and did it work with the recipe?

The first answer is of course it was palatable, as I rarely share bad wines with the world.  Cynthia’s philosophy at Passaggio is quite simple, Follow Your Passion, and that clearly shows in her wines. Currently Passaggio’s passion extends to the Unoaked Chardonnay, and a Pinot Grigio that I’ll be tasting later in the week. There’s insider information that perhaps we’ll see a Passaggio Rose in the future. Yum! Cynthia sources her grapes for the Chardonnay from Lodi, California, and uses the Crushpad custom wine making facility to work her magic!

In making the Chardonnay, Cynthia chose to veer away from the “typical” oaky, buttery chardonnay we see out of many California wineries, and let the fruit express itself, rather than the wood. Therefore, the wine is fermented in stainless steel, rather than in oak, and it does not go through malolactic fermentation. “Malo” will provide the heavier, buttery mouth feel that you find in some Chardonnay wines, such as Chateau Montelena of Bottleshock fame. To get a bit of a heavier mouthfeel, Cynthia stirred the wine, which was aging sur lie for six months, every other week. Aging sur lie, or aging on lees, means that the wine stays in the same tank or barrel with the yeast that helped ferment the wine. Often this provides a bit of richness and complexity to the wine, which was very noticeable in the Passaggio chardonnay.

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay 2009

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay 2009

Right out of the bottle, the nose was a little buttered popcorn with pears, and the palate was crisp, with tropical fruits and a little spice, all of which took me by surprise. Usually spice comes from the oak, not the chardonnay, and this was unoaked, right? RIGHT!  After about 5 or 10 minutes of breathing, the nose opened up to be a lot less butter popcorn and a lot more pear and fresh fruits. The palate also changed, with a very nice tropical pineapple and pear flavor, with no spice or butter in sight, or taste. Many wines can really benefit from a little air, or breathing. I already went to the “Geek Side” with Sur Lie, so just trust me on this one. Opening the bottle, pour a quarter of a glass, and let oxygen get into the bottle and glass for 5 or 10 minutes for a fabulous glass of wine.

So I’ve told you that the wine rocked my socks, but what about the food and wine pairing? Well, first of all, Ina makes great food, so you know the meal on it’s own was going to be amazing. Easy to make, with fresh flavors of garlic and lemon that enhance the flavor of the shrimp, not mask it. The pasta was al dente and not over sauced, making it a participant of the meal, and not a casualty. We changed the recipe and omitted the red pepper flakes so that the fresh flavors stood out more, and not the heat. However, I’m tempted to make this recipe this weekend with the red pepper flakes, and see how it goes. While I’ve linked to the recipe above, I’ll post it here (without permission, I’m a rebel, huh) for your convenience. Please, Food Network, don’t be mad!

Shrimp Scampi from Ina Garten's recipe

Shrimp Scampi from Ina Garten’s recipe

The pairing was, of course, spectacular. Chardonnay and shrimp is usually a fool proof food and wine pairing. However, the tropical flavors of the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay complimented the lemony zip of the shrimp scampi so wonderfully, each mouthful beckoned another sip, and each sip, another mouthful. The Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay is a great wine for $16, and paired with this dish that will run you about $15 to serve 3 or 4 people, you’ve got a great meal for about $30.

A few other wine writers have tasted and shared their thoughts on the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay. Check out what Frank Loves Wine and The Iowa Wino had to say. I’d love to hear what YOU have to say! Leave a comment below about Chardonnay, Passaggio, what food you’d like me to pair and post, or what you had for lunch! I don’t care, just leave a comment!

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi by The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten from Food Network

Ingredients:

Vegetable oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
3/4 pound linguine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 pound large shrimp (about 16 shrimp), peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 lemon, zest grated
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (we skipped, but give it a go!)
Directions

Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.