The Wonderful World of Pasta
Penne pasta, spaghetti, lasagna, and ravioli are wonderful pastas to use in a variety of dishes. Unfortunately for many Americans, this is the extent of what most people prepare. There isn’t anything wrong with these common pastas, they certainly have their place, but seeing only four or five options when eating out in most areas of the United States neglects the endless varieties available which can make a pasta dish so much more interesting.
When traveling in Italy, however, there are almost as many different types of pasta as there are days in the year. If more Italian restaurants in the United States used these great pastas, we would be able to sample an array of flavors and textures, then offer a variety of options beyond the typical in our home kitchens.
This post features Bucatini pasta, which, if you haven’t had it in place of spaghetti, you should. It’s time. Bucatini is similar to spaghetti, but so much better. It comes in long strands like spaghetti, but has a hollow center, allowing the boiling water (and eventually the sauce) to enter the pasta. Even though the dry pasta is about the same size as spaghetti, it plumps and expands when cooked, making Bucatini lighter and airier then spaghetti. Combine this with properly cultivated Italian winter wheat, and the result is a game changer.
Bucatini e Polpette (Bucatini and Meatballs)
- Traditional Meatballs
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 3-4 clove garlic, sliced
- 1/2 whole onion, grated or finely minced
- 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp ground fennel
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (white or wheat/plain or Italian style) You can substitute Japanese (Panko) bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp milk
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated/shredded
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper, roughly ground
- 4-5 cups Your Favorite Marinara, Tomato Basil or Vecchia Scuola Italiana Salsa Rossa (Old School Italian Red Sauce)
- 24 oz Bucatini Pasta or your favorite kind
- Thinly slice the garlic-the thinner the better. The idea is to melt the garlic with the onions in the olive oil.
- Peel and mince 1/2 an onion. Chop the onion very fine.
- Heat a large sauté pan with a good quality olive oil. Bring the olive oil up to the point it shimmers, but not smoking. Add the onion and garlic and let it sweat until the mixture is very soft, but not colored/caramelized. Remove from the heat and reserve.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the two ground meats. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Once the meat is thoroughly mixed, spread the meat out in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Add the seasonings (ground fennel, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper).
- Finely chop Italian parsley and add to the seasoned meat mixture.
- In a small bowl add the breadcrumbs and the milk. With a fork, stir the milk into the bread crumbs. Your want the bread crumbs just wet, but not soaking in milk. Add this to the seasoned meat mixture. If you add too much milk, just squeeze out the excess with your hand before adding to the meat mixture.
- Add the now cooled onion/garlic mixture to the seasoned meat/parsley/bread crumb mixture.
- Add a good quality cheese to the mixture and with you hands. Thoroughly mix all ingredients until well incorporated.
- Preheat a large skillet or sauté pan with 3 tbsp of olive oil. Prepare a large sheet pan with a bit of olive oil spreading around with a paper towel so the meatballs don't stick when cooked.
- Using a 3 oz scoop or, as in my case, a handy 1/3 cup scoop, measure the mixture and start making the meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Continue to do this until all the meatball mixture is rolled into shape.
- Roll each meatball in all-purpose flour and coat evenly, gently shaking off any excess. In batches, add the meatballs to the preheated pan with olive oil and cook until well browned, all the way around. Remove all the browned meatballs to a sheet pan and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees with an instant read thermometer.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the marinara (or your favorite) sauce and heat up briefly to cook the sauce into the meatballs. (The bigger and shallower the pan, the easier it is to gently coat the meatballs with sauce.) Prepare a portion of 2-3 meatballs with about 1/2 cup of sauce in a skillet heated enough to keep warm.
- Cook the Bucatini pasta according the directions on the package or recipe. Once the pasta is al dente or just cooked, reserve one or two cups of the pasta cooking water (you will use this starchy water to help cook the sauce onto the pasta). After draining the pasta, add it straight into the meatballs and sauce. Toss the sauce and pasta together with tongs. Add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water per portion and stir to mix in. Cook the pasta into the sauce for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, adding more sauce if needed.
- With a set of tongs, set a portion of the pasta in the center of a serving dish. Top with meatballs and any extra sauce. Drizzle with a good quality olive oil and dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh parsley or basil (optional).