One of my fondest childhood memories is how my Neapolitan aunt Carlotta used to sneak me a meatball before I went to Sunday mass. She would start her sauce early in the day and the aroma would always wake me up—always earlier than I wanted. I would go downstairs to the kitchen, where she would be enjoying her morning espresso while her sauce simmered away. While I had breakfast, she’d let me taste the sauce on a crust of Italian bread and I would start longing for our Sunday afternoon dinner, which wouldn’t be served for at least another 7 hours.

After breakfast, I’d watch some television or read the Sunday comics and then return upstairs to get dressed for church. During this time, my aunt would still be in the kitchen cooking, often joined by mother, and they would work on the dinner until they would leave for a later mass than mine. Children’s mass was always at 9.

When I got back downstairs with only minutes to spare before I had to go—no run—to church, my aunt would whisper: “Roland, have a meatball.”

“But I can’t, I’m taking communion this morning.” (Church law had us fasting for at least an hour before the sacrament.)

“Nonsense,” she would say. “How could God mind just a taste? It’s our secret.”

And so I tasted and enjoyed. (Eve’s apple couldn’t have been more tempting.) And with my aunt’s wink of absolution, I’d run off to mass.

It was this remembrance that inspired me to make my aunt’s meatballs for supper yesterday. As she never used or wrote a recipe for them, I have to rely on my memory of watching her make them. There were just a few ingredients, but they were always so flavorful and so unlike those “spicy meatballs” made famous by the Alka-Seltzer commercial.

Zia Carlotta’s Meatballs
2 slices high-quality white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup milk
1 pound ground chuck beef (20% fat)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 clove garlic, minced fine
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped fine
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying
Homemade tomato sauce (I use Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter)

Soak the bread in milk for 10 to 15 minutes.

Using you hands, thoroughly squeeze the milk out of the bread. Discard the milk and reserve the bread.

In a large bowl, gently combine the beef, egg, cheese, raisins, garlic, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the bread and, using your hands, combine with the other ingredients until evenly distributed. Be gentle and do not overwork the mixture. Overworking the mixture will make your meatballs heavy.

Using wet hands, shape the mixture using your palms to create balls that are approximately 1.5 inches in size. You should have about 12 meatballs from this recipe.

In a skillet large enough to accommodate all of the meatballs in a single layer, add olive oil to approximately a 1/4 inch depth. Heat over medium heat. Carefully add the meatballs and fry turning occasionally until browned all over. About 10 to 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a platter layered with paper towels to drain excess fat.

In a pot large enough to accommodate the meatballs, bring your sauce to a gentle simmer. Transfer the drained meatballs to the sauce and cook over low heat for another 10 minutes or so until cooked through.

Serve with spaghetti tossed with the sauce from the meatballs and sprinkled with grated Romano.

Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico

Pork Chops with Potatoes


While pork chops may not live up to everyone’s idea of a Valentine’s Day dinner, for us they made the perfect late-night supper, especially when prepared as they were last night. We had seen them prepared a few weeks ago on the Cooking Chanel’s “French Food at Home” by Canadian chef Laura Calder and were eager to prepare them at home.

When we found the recipe on line, however, we were surprised by how many discrepancies there were between the television and website versions. For example, the online recipe calls for 4 fatty pork chops rather tan the 4 fat, thick chops used on the show. Similarly, the online version listed 1.5 pounds potatoes thinly sliced, while on television Calder specifically specified waxy potatoes sliced thick.

Consequently, I modified the recipe to follow the dish prepared on the show and was extremely pleased with the result. Although I had some reservations about cooking the chops for close to two hours, they came out perfectly succulent and tasty.

The next time I prepare this dish, I’ll probably use chops a little thicker than an inch and extend the cooking time a tad. But even if you only have inch-thick chops, you’ll enjoy this French country dish.

Pork Chops with Potatoes adapted from Cooking Channel Chef Laura Calder
4 thick bone-in rib pork chops (a least 1-inch thick)
2 cloves garlic, sliced (try to have 3 slices per chop)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced thick, about 1/2 inch
1 large sweet onion, sliced 1/4 inch
2 to 3 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch lardons
1/2 teaspoon juniper berries
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

The chops and other ingredients
The chops and other ingredients

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Cut 2 to 3 slivers along the fatty edge of each pork chop and slide in the slices of garlic.

Heat the oil and the butter in skillet large enough to accommodate the 4 chops on high heat. Season the chops with salt and pepper and brown them well, about 3 minutes per side.

Browning the chops
Browning the chops

Transfer the chops to a plate and deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. Transfer the pan juices to a large enamel-cast iron Dutch oven.

Arrange half the potatoes and onions over the pan juices in the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper lay two chops on top of the potatoes and onions.

First layer of potatoes and onions
First layer of potatoes and onions

Then stack the remaining two chops on top of the chops in the pot. Scatter the bacon and juniper berries over the stacked chops.

Stacked chops
Stacked chops

Cover with the remaining potatoes and onions. Season this layer with additional salt and pepper. Pour over the wine.

Cut a piece of parchment to fit over the potatoes and pork chops and lay it in on top.

Bake the dish for about 1 hour and 45 minutes (longer if using thicker chops), pouring in the chicken stock halfway through baking. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.

After cooking
After cooking

Wine Pairing: Brunello di Montalcino

Stewed Sausages with Fennel and Tomato


Owing to our work schedules, Saturdays are typically filled with running errands and housekeeping. As a result on these days, I often look for dishes that are relatively easy to prepare and that can cook on their own while we catch our breath and linger over an aperitivo.

I came across this recipe on the Food and Wine website and thought it would be perfect for a wintry Saturday evening. Including prep, it only requires about an hour and a half and as the sausages cook, the aromas tantalize the appetite.

I’ve modified the original recipe slightly, reducing the number of sausages to 6 from 12 and the number of fennel bulbs from 3 to 2. The recipe recommends serving with creamy polenta and here, I opted for a quick-cooking 5 minute version.

The prep
The prep

Stewed Sweet Sausages in Fennel-Tomato Sauce adapted from Food and

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 sweet Italian sausages (about 2 pounds)
2 large fennel bulbs—trimmed, each bulb cut into 8 wedges, fronds chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
Kosher salt
One 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
2 whole chiles de árbol

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil. Add the sausages and cook over medium heat, turning, until nicely browned all over, 5 minutes. (Don’t rush this step, but also be careful not to overcook the sausages at this point.)

Transfer to a plate.

Browned sausages

Add the fennel wedges to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes.

Browning the fennel
Browning the fennel

Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until the fennel is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

After adding the onion and garlic

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the wine, and chiles.

With the tomatoes, wine, and chili
With the tomatoes, wine, and chiles

Tuck the sausages into the sauce.

During the last 45 minutes of cooking

Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce is thickened, about 45 minutes longer.

Garnish the stew with fennel fronds and serve over polenta.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto d’Alba, Merlot