Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cavatelli con Polpettine

Or, pasta with a meatball sauce. While the American version of spaghetti and meatballs doesn't really exist here in Italy, I did happen to see this down-home dish in a country restaurant in remote Basilicata, which is where my family came from. Cavatelli is one of the preferred regional pastas, along with orecchiette, widely used in that area. They are short little things, sort of like curled- up flower petals, and pick up delicate sauces pretty well. The meatballs are not the giant variety we're so familiar with, but instead little nubs...more like marbles than balls and it really is more like a meat sauce than pasta with meatballs. This is a nice, feel-good dish for the winter doldrums.

about 1/3 pound of ground beef or veal
1 Italian sausage link (spicy is preferred in Basilicata, but whichever variety you like)
about 1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
a handful of breadcrumbs
1 small egg

You'll also need...
Extra virgin olive oil
about 1/4 cup chopped onion
a clove of garlic, minced
red wine
meat or vegetable broth
pecorino cheese

Mix everything together, combining well. Use a small amount to form into little marble-sized balls, setting aside until all the meatballs are formed.

In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the meatballs and brown them. This may have to be done in two batches. When all the meatballs are lightly browned, add a little more oil to the skillet if necessary and saute the onion and garlic, stirring well until softened but not too browned. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, then add the broth, returning all the meatballs to the pan. Partially cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the cavatelli until cooked al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain and put in a serving bowl. Pour the meatballs and sauce over top, then gently combine.

Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese.

Here is another version (in Italian), this one from Puglia.