The Wonderful World of Pasta
Penne pasta, spaghetti, lasagna, and ravioli are excellent pasta to use in various dishes. Unfortunately for many Americans, this is the extent of what most people prepare. There isn’t anything wrong with these classic kinds of pasta. 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 enjoyable.
If more Italian restaurants in the United States used these extraordinary kinds of pasta, 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 than spaghetti. Combine this with properly cultivated Italian winter wheat, and the result is a game-changer.
Bucatini e Polpette (Bucatini and Meatballs)
- chef knife
- cutting board
- large saute pan
- large pot for boiling pasta
- Medium mixing bowl
- sheet pan
- wire cooling rack (optional)
- cheese grater
- 1 lb beef, ground
- 1 lb pork, ground
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly
- ½ whole onion, grated or finely minced
- 3 tbsp parsley, Italian chopped fine
- 1 tsp pepper, red flakes
- 1 tsp fennel seed, ground
- ½ cup bread crumbs (white or wheat/plain or Italian style) You can substitute Japanese (Panko) bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp milk, whole
- ¾ cup cheese, Parmesean grated/shredded (Pecorino Romano is also a good choice.)
- 1 tsp salt, kosher, or sea
- 1 tsp pepper, black, 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
- basil, fresh torn
- parsley, Italian, finely chopped
- Pecorino Romano
- oil, olive, extra virgin
Prep the Ingredients
- Mince the onions and thinly slice the garlic. Prep the minced parsley and measure out the rest of the ingredients, and reserve.
Cook the Aromatics
- To a saute pan, add extra virgin olive oil and heat over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the minced onion and thinly sliced garlic.
- 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 sweat until the mixture is very soft but not colored/caramelized. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Mix the Meat and Seasonings.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the two ground types of meat. Wet both hands with water and mix until thoroughly combined. Once the seasoned meat/pork is thoroughly mixed, 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. You want the bread crumbs just wet but not soaking in milk. Add this to the seasoned meat mixture. If you add too much milk, squeeze out the excess with your hand before adding to the meat mixture.
- Next, add the reserved onion/garlic mixture to the seasoned meat/parsley/bread crumb mixture.
- Follow this by adding a good quality cheese to the mixture and with your hands. Then (Again, wet your hands with clean water to keep them from sticking.) mix all ingredients until well incorporated.
Cook the Meatballs
- 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 ⅓ cup scoop, measure the mixture, then start making the meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Repeat till done.
- 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. Place the meatballs on a sheet pan and bake in the oven at (350°F or 175°C) for 20 minutes. Cook the meatballs until they reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees with an instant-read thermometer. Reserve
Serving the Meatballs and Pasta
- Start by cooking the meatballs to the marinara (or your favorite) sauce and heat up briefly in the sauce. Next, prepare a portion of 2-3 meatballs with about ½ cup of pasta sauce in a skillet heated enough to keep warm.
- Cook the pasta to the directions on the package. When the pasta is al dente add it straight into the sauce. Do not rinse. (Save the pasta water to thicken the sauce.)
- Set a portion of the pasta in the center of a serving dish with a set of tongs. Top with meatballs and any extra sauce. Drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil and dust with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, fresh parsley, or basil (optional).