July 12, 2010

Bucatini All'Amatriciana with Mozzarella Meatballs

Whoa...mamma mia! This was one fantastic pasta and meatballs dish. We all LOVED this meal; including my 4 year old who kept exclaiming, "I love this yummy recipe in my tummy." I recently checked out Giada's new cookbook, Giada At Home out at the library and this dish was one of the recipes that I had marked to try out. After I returned the book, I could not stop thinking about these meatballs, so I did a search on foodnetwork.com and--low and behold--there it was!!! Lucky me!!! I will say, I think her cookbook is next on my purchase list. There were still a bunch of amazing looking recipes in it that I want to make.

I did find the bucatini pasta (basically, spaghetti noodles with a hole in the middle like a straw), but regular spaghetti noodles would have been just as good. Next time I will sub in our favorite whole wheat spaghetti noodles. After all, this dish really wasn't about the pasta. It was about the sauce and the awesome meatballs; the pasta itself was just a vehicle. On that note, let's talk about the meatballs for a minute, shall we? I will admit that these were the best meatballs that I ever made and/or consumed...ever. Ever! I am not kidding...they were that good. Needless to say, I think this is my new favorite spaghetti and meatballs dish, hands down. I will need to think of an excuse to make it again soon, because I am already craving more.

I did make a couple of changes to the original recipe, so I will post my adapted version below and link to the original on the Food Network website. A green salad and some garlic bread is all that is needed to complete this dinner. Yum, yum, yum!

Bucatini All'Amatriciana with Mozzarella Meatballs
Adapted From: Giada De Laurentiis, Giada At Home cookbook via foodnetwork.com


All'Amatriciana Sauce:
1 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

1 small (6-ounce) onion, grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/4 cup
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1/3 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 tablespoons ketchup
3 garlic cloves, grated
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 lb ground beef
1 container of cherry-sized fresh mozzarella cheese balls, marinated in olive oil and spices --OR-- 2 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 16 (1/2-inch) cubes

1 pound bucatini or other long pasta


For the sauce:
In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and reserve. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and the cooked bacon. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the meatballs:
Position an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the onion, 1/2 cup parsley, 2/3 cup Parmesan, bread crumbs, egg, ketchup, garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the beef. Using your hands, combine all ingredients gently but thoroughly. Shape the meat mixture into 16 (1 1/2-inch-diameter) meatballs (**OR** 8 larger meatballs, if you prefer) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Make a hole in the center of each meatball and place a ball (or cube) of mozzarella inside. Reform the meatball so that the mozzarella is completely covered with the meat mixture. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes until cooked through.

For the Pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Add the meatballs and sauce. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and Parmesan.

Jen's Notes:
I subbed bacon for pancetta in the original recipe, because I could not find it. Then, since bacon is smoked I changed the mozzarella cheese from smoked to regular, marinated. I didn't want too much smokey flavor, so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. Also, the I used all 80/20 beef instead of a beef/veal combo. Again, I could not find ground veal; so I used what I had on hand.

The Result:
As I said, this was awesome! My only critique is that it is not exactly healthy. I do wonder if it could be lightened up without compromising the flavor, but it is so fantastic as-is I am almost afraid to mess with it. I would say that this is definitely a splurge meal; but soooo worth it!

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