This week I had an out-of-town friend coming to visit. The plan was to head into town for afternoon coffee and cake, go to see The Rehearsal at Lighthouse Cuba, then come back home for dinner. I wanted to make something I could at least partly prepare in advance, so that we could get home about 6.30, sit down for a while in a civilised fashion with a glass of wine and a snack, then move smoothly on to dinner without me having to faff around for too long in the kitchen.
One solution was the slow cooker, but we've had quite a few slow cooker meals lately. I settled on Claudia Roden's Basilicata meatballs, served with Lois Daish's "sauceless" pasta with herbs and caramelised onions, and a pretty beetroot and red cabbage salad (I threw in some barberries as well). I could do the meatballs and onions and prepare the herbs ahead of time, along with the guacamole for starters. Then all I needed to do in the evening was cook the pasta, make the salad and warm up the meatballs and onions. It all worked very nicely.
I thought I'd already posted the meatball recipe on this blog, but I hadn't; so here it is, along with Lois's very simple but delicious pasta.
(Very slightly adapted from Claudia Roden, The Food of Italy)
500 g minced pork
4 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tomato, peeled and chopped, or 1 dessertspoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons grated parmesan if possible, grate it from a piece, don't use the ready-grated stuff)
1/2 a mild onion
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons raisins, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pinenuts, toasted lightly in a dry frypan
olive oil for frying
Set oven to low (to keep meatballs warm as they cook).
Put the meat, breadcrumbs, tomato, and cheese into the food processor. Grate in the onion and season with salt and pepper. Pulse till well mixed. (OR work everything together well in a bowl.)
Mix in the raisins and pine nuts by hand.
With damp hands, shape into small balls (it makes about 24).
Heat oil in frypan and cook meatballs on medium-low heat with space between them (you will need 2 or 3 batches depending on the size of your pan), pressing down a little on each one, then turning when they are browned and cooking the other side.
As each batch cooks, put meatballs on an oven tray lined with paper towel and keep them warm in the oven. (I heated them up like this for dinner, replacing the paper towel with baking paper.)
Fettucine with caramelised onions and herbs
(From Lois Daish, Dinner at Home)
The original recipe is for 1, this one is for 4.
4 medium or 3 large onions
2-3 tablespoons good olive oil
fettuccine or other ribbon pasta (Lois says fresh, but I used the very good dried Italian kind that comes in tidy little bundles of about 70g - one bundle is enough for me, but you might want more)
4 tablespoons finely chopped winter herbs, such as sage, thyme and/or rosemary
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
At least 4 tablespoons grated parmesan (Lois says this is optional, but I don't think so!)
Slice the onions finely lengthwise (I did mine using the slicing blade in the food processor).
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion over a moderate until it starts to colour.
Reduce the heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring gently every so often, until the onion is soft and dark golden brown. This can be made well ahead and stored in the fridge.
Put a large pot of water on to boil. When it's boiling, stir in salt and then add the pasta. Stir lightly with a fork and boil for 4 minutes if fresh, 7-8 minutes if dried.
While it cooks, place a metal bowl either over the pasta or over a second smaller pot of boiling water (I didn't have one to fit the big pasta pot). Add the onion (plus a little more olive oil if it's a little dry), the herbs and the garlic. (I don't like raw garlic, so I fried mine with the onion.)
When the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and tip it into the bowl of onion mixture (or if that one isn't big enough, transfer pasta and onion mixture to another warmed bowl).Toss with a fork so that each strand of pasta is lightly coated with oil.
Stir in parmesan (with extra on the side for serving) and season to taste.
If you're having the meatballs too, pile these into their own warm serving bowl, along with a simple salad. Have warmed individual bowls or pasta plates ready.
I got a good photo of the pasta (pappardelle), though the onions don't show up very well, they're lurking underneath. But the meatballs came out all blurry - blame it on too much red wine (in me, not in the meatballs).