I consider myself gifted when it comes to gift giving. Unless a loved one is completely inscrutable, in which case I'll harness my inner Sherlock and do my best not to succumb to a gift certificate, I'm pretty spot-on when choosing presents. This past Valentine's Day, though, I was stumped. My fiancé's birthday is in early February, the holidays weren't so long ago, and I got him a stellar congratulatory gift in January after he accepted the new job that took us to California. There was nothing I could think of to buy him.
So I decided to make him the best version of spaghetti and meatballs I could muster. It's one of my favorite dishes and I'd actually never made it for him before. Spaghetti and meatballs made from scratch takes time, and it is well worth the effort to buy the freshest ingredients possible, which I did from the Golden Gate Meat Company in the Ferry Building.
My friendly new butcher in San Francisco
A sunny afternoon outside the Ferry Building
I was dreaming of giving the meatballs a Sicilian touch with chopped golden raisins, so I added those to the ground meat, along with browned butter in lieu of nuts. Adding the chopped raisins to the butter helps halt the browning process but all the same, you should be as quick as possible about removing the butter from the heat, adding the raisins and then adding this mix to the meat.
While the meatballs are browning in a pan, heat up two cups of tomato sauce and add two tablespoons of red chili pepper flakes and a third of a cup of minced fennel. This is a great use for any fennel tops you may have languishing in your fridge! Just de-frond them and mince two to three stalks to give the sauce a touch of earthy sweetness.
The dish was well received, and I uncorked a bottle of an offbeat Greek red, Limnio, to pair, as we both love trying obscure grapes. Considering it had just the barest buzz of heat from the red-pepper flakes, I think a variety of red wines would work here. Try it with the 2007 Graves Cosmic Scout Red Blend in the Graves Library Blend Trio or the 2008 Pievano Rosso di Montefalco.
Valentine's Day Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef
2 wild boar and beer sausages
1/4 red onion, minced
2 oz. browned butter
3 tbsp of chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped golden raisins
Sea salt and pepper, not too much of either since the sausage probably has some salt in it
Remove the sausage meat from the casings and discard them. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together and let it marinate for an hour. As I was preoccupied with flavor blasting, I forgot to add an egg or any breadcrumbs, so to keep the meatballs together before browning in a hot pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, I rolled them in Wondra. Next time I'll probably add an egg and half a cup of breadcrumbs to the meatballs to give them better texture.
I didn't include a tomato sauce recipe here because I have never used one and I never make it the same way twice. Feel free to use whatever basic recipe you like with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, onions and tomato paste, and then add the extras I mentioned above, the hot pepper flakes and minced fennel.