I didn’t grow up eating papparadelle with prosciutto meatballs. I didn’t grow up eating chunky tomato sauce either. It was always spaghetti or rigatoni, meatballs and a smooth sauce that looked like this. The food rules in our family (unwritten, but clearly understood inside my Italian American culture) was that we never ever ordered spaghetti in a restaurant. It’s considered a home dish, a peasant dish, a country dish, Sunday supper, but not a dining out dish.
I eat out frequently, which is where I get a lot of my cooking inspiration. I’ve noticed a new trend.
A lot of upscale casual restaurants that are not specifically Italian are adding papparadelle with meatballs, bolognese sauce or a rabbit ragu to their dinner menus. I’ve thought about this because I think about food and food culture a lot. I watch food trends. I pay attention not just to what people are dining out on but what people are dining in on.
The typical American family doesn’t dine at home the way people used to. They rush and split up venturing out to various sports games or other activities. The dining table is piled up with everything except plates and dinner napkins. They are too busy to invite people over and they are too busy to relax at the table at leisure. It’s not because women work, because all the women in my family worked full-time throughout my entire childhood, yet I still have a book full of food memories and conversations at the table, where television was not allowed, and we lingered for a long while because it was fun, entertaining and heart warming.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s not easy to find someone taking the time to make a homemade pasta, homemade meatballs and a homemade sauce. Yet, no dish screams of comfort more, and I think these restaurants have realized they can offer the family experience at their own table. Such a meal has a value outside of the home much more than it did in the past. It’s a way to get what I had in the past. You have to talk. You can’t leave the table. It’s an experience that will be remembered far longer than an activity.
This is my twist on a classic. The prosciutto in the meatballs adds an interesting layer of flavor to the beef. A chunky tomato sauce pairs well with papparadelle, which is a wide egg noodle made here. You can substitute papparadelle with a macaroni such as a rigatoni or penne pasta which also likes a chunky sauce. Store bought pasta is almost as good if it’s a premium pasta. Chunky tomato sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes is cooked just enough to extract the flavor of the tomatoes and finish the meatballs.
The journey to get to this dish is also part of the experience. Kids can help you make the pasta, or mix the meatballs. There is always something a child can do to be a part of the family food culture. The day we ate this pasta with meatballs, my table was stretched with three extra leaves, and I had to borrow chairs to seat everyone. Two little almost 6 year old boys served each plate to each guest and then cleared each plate. I almost tear up when I think of how many children are missing this kind of experience. Good food is important, but it’s always more than the food that makes the memory and creates a culture.
So tell me, do you have a childhood dish that screams comfort to you?
- 2 large cans San Marzano Tomatoes
- olive oil
- ½ onion, quartered
- 1 garlic clove , peeled left whole
- fresh herb such as fresh Italian parsley or fresh basil
- sea salt
- black pepper
- 1 slice white sandwich bread, torn into large pieces
- ½ cup milk
- 1 pound grass fed ground beef (you can use half and half ground pork)
- 1 large egg
- 3½ slices prosciutto, finely chopped
- 2½ tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place oil in pan with onion. Sweat onion for two minutes on medium heat. Add in garlic clove. Cook until almost golden. Remove onion and garlic. Add in tomatoes and one half can water. Add salt, pepper, herbs. On medium low heat, cook for 15 minutes. Add in meatballs. Cook for 30 minutes. Sauce will chunky and fresh. If you need to keep warm longer on stove, simmer at lowest possible heat.
- Combine ground beef and one egg.
- Add bread, prosciutto, parsley, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Combine with hands gently. Do not overwork.
- Form into 2 tablespoon portions and form meatballs. Fry in olive oil for 3 minutes.
- Place in tomato sauce, cook for 30 minutes.
- Cook pasta according to instructions or see homemade pasta here.
- Assemble pasta, meatballs, sauce.