My Pandemic Diary, Entry #23

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #23

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s Wednesday and being midweek, the days are once again blurring. I probably need more structure, or else I could just embrace the blur. Or I could do the laundry.

But it’s a lovely day and so Mark and I did our walk, this time an abbreviated one as I had to go to Duane Reade for a couple of things and I couldn’t put off that errand any longer. Walking into the store, I was struck by how grim it was, with a guard at the door to allow comings and goings, and yard after yard of empty shelves. I especially felt how defeated the nice people who work there seem to be. I so very much hope that Walgreen’s, which as you probably know, owns Duane Reade, is taking care of these folks, although I am not confident that is the case.

Yesterday I read somewhere that in Paris, the chocolate and cheese stores were deemed “essential” and had opened just for Easter. I couldn’t find any confirmation that this was true, and upon reflection, it would be inconsistent with how tough Macron is being with the French lockdown. But just for a moment, it was a welcomed fancy of French normalcy.  

Cooking and Groceries

Last night’s dinner was a pan-cooked duck breast, plus some really lovely asparagus spears. I should also mention that while I cooked, I had an unplanned appetizer of most of a small pan of slightly oily and still warm salted croutons that I had just toasted. Eaten one by one, each piece was preceded by a pause of hesitation followed by a “what the hell.” These things happen.

After yesterday’s diary entry about tomato sauce and meatballs, I’ve had a few requests for the full meatball recipe. I’ll add that in a moment, but first I want to call your attention to a really terrific and bookmark-able article by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt in The New York Times food section about food expiration dates and how long food actually stays safe to eat. Here’s the link.

I recommend both the article and its reader comments, some of which have additional and excellent tips, as well as bits of always-appreciated humor. A couple of the reader comments also mentioned a website called Still Tasty that answers the often-asked question: just how long is a shelf life?  Here’s a link and no subscription is needed to access its data. 

Back to the meatballs.  This recipe is based on one from Arthur Schwartz’s The Southern Italian Table and it makes twelve 1 ½-inch meatballs, although I like to make mine a little bit smaller. His original recipe included pine nuts and raisins which he attributes as Neapolitan and Sicilian additions, but I leave them out. I also substitute breadcrumbs (I use fine ones) for his use of stale bread resuscitated in water. This recipe is quite flexible in that you can use more or less of some of the ingredients and the meatballs will still be excellent.  For example, I like to use a total of two pounds of meat – a pound each of ground beef and ground pork – but will keep all the other ingredients as written here and the results are very successful.

1 1/4 cup bread crumbs (not seasoned; plain and preferably unsalted)
1 1/4 pounds ground beef or a combo of ground beef and ground pork
2 large eggs, beaten to mix well
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup grated pecorino (you can also use Parmesan)
1/4 cup loosely packed finely minced parsley
1 teaspoon salt (less if your breadcrumbs are salted)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, ground beef/pork, eggs, garlic, pecorino, parsley, salt, and pepper. Using your clean hands, mix all the ingredients very well, making sure everything is blended with the meat. 

Using your two palms, roll the mixture into meatballs.

Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is, as Arthur wrote, “hot enough to create bubbles around the handle of a wooden spoon,” place the meatballs in the pan and fry them so to form a crust on all its surfaces, using tongs or a spatula or other utensils to dislodge and rotate. After ten minutes you can transfer the meatballs to a pan of hot tomato sauce to gently simmer for another 15 minutes.  Or if you’re not using sauce, continue to cook them in the skillet for about another 5 or so minutes.

They always taste best if eaten soon after they've been cooked.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough

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