My old friend the Deadhead had Steelers season tickets for a long time. Of course, this meant a regular tailgate for several hours prior to each home game. Every year was the same, the players came and went, some years the Steelers won, some years they lost (spawning the refrain, "Steelers are losin', so we're boozin'"), but the rhythm of the tailgate was unchanging. The season kicked off with a feast fit for Henry the VIII -- steak, sausages, salads, fresh bread, turkey, pasta, meatballs, cocktails, beer, wine and anything else you could possibly to lug down to Three Rivers Stadium. (This went on, as I said, for some time, back to the old days of Three Rivers.) By the end of the season, they inevitably lost steam. It was so much work, so much schlepping. The last home game of the year, the repast was usually a pathetic over-sized sub sandwich and a quarter keg. The attrition of a long season wears on fans, too.
As Sunday dawns, while my coffee brews, the Sunday Recipe looms and I am reminded of the Deadhead's tailgate. I view it as a cautionary tale, one I don't want to repeat here in the bloggy-world. The NFL season is taking a toll (are the Steelers going to play all of their games at night? Will the NFL gods ever tire of torturing me so?), so in an effort to stave off the virtual "sandwich ring," I'm serving one of my favorites, a meal I make often and enjoy every time, pasta alio e olio, but the star of the show is the turkey-spinach meatballs.
You will need:
2 pounds of ground turkey (I use white meat)
1 package of frozen spinach (a bag, not a box), thawed and drained
about 2 cups breadcrumbs
1 cup grated romano cheese
crushed red pepper
3 cloves of garlic
fresh parsley, preferably flat leaf (a nice handful)
1 pound of whole wheat angel hair pasta (more on this later)
To prepare the meatballs:
Thoroughly thaw the spinach and drain it really well. I usually put it in some paper towels and give it a good squeeze it to get all the excess water out. Water does not equal flavor.
Add the spinach to the turkey, plus two eggs, breadcrumbs (about 3 palmfuls for me, because I don't really measure anything, if we're being honest here), about a palmful (or a little more) of grated romano cheese, the shallots (finely diced), a healthy pinch of salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper.
Mix together and form into balls. Size? Bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a lacrosse ball is what I usually shoot for. Lay out on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet (you'll need two trays) and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. You'll smell them when they're ready.
For the pasta,
I've never been a fan of whole wheat pasta, despite the alleged health benefits. In the past, in an effort to eat allegedly healthier food and still quell my pasta jones, I'd try choking down some whole wheat pasta, which usually kicked off one of my diatribes against all things whole wheat, and ended with me sputtering that to even call that whole wheat crap "pasta" was an affront to real pasta everywhere. I stand by that original assessment - that most whole wheat pasta is a slap in the face, an affront to proud, delicious semolina pasta.
However, I have discovered a reasonably tasty whole wheat pasta: Gia Russa, angel hair. If you can't find Gia Russa, then get any imported whole wheat. Americans don't grind the wheat finely enough, which just messes with the texture of the pasta. And good pasta is all about the right texture. It should be chewy, yes, but also silky, and coarsely ground wheat is anything but. Also, I think the thinness of angel hair helps perpetuate the illusion that you're eating silky semolina pasta, so I find that angel hair is the only cut of whole wheat pasta I can tolerate. Or, you can do what I usually do and just use regular friggin' pasta. Whatever you decide, cook the angel hair in well salted water until just before it's al dente.
For the alio e olio,
Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and add three cloves of garlic (crushed, grated or finely diced) and a pinch of crushed red pepper until the garlic is soft and starting to brown. Then add the cooked pasta to the skillet for a minute or two and toss with the chopped parsley. Add the meatballs and serve it all with grated pecorino romano cheese.
As to the football, I'm hoping we see a lot of plays that look like this: