Long ago, before I was serious about cooking and the only food I liked to cook was dessert or pasta, I picked up a funny looking book from the closeout section of a bookstore. At the time I had no idea who James Beard was, I just wanted to buy another cheap book on pasta. After buying it, the book went into a pile and was forgotten. The book: James Beard’s Beard on Pasta.
James Beard, a very important figure in American cooking, has left behind a culinary legacy. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
[Beard] was an eccentric personality who brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Many consider him the father of American-style gourmet cooking. His legacy lives on in twenty books, numerous writings, his own foundation, and his foundation’s annual Beard awards in various culinary genres.
A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my closets and came across it. And what a find. This book, now out of print, contains many wonderful little recipes created by James Beard. Many of them can now be found in his later books, such as The New James Beard, but this one is entirely pasta. If you can find a copy, it would be well worth your while to pick it up.
As an aside, I would like everyone to know that the reason I don’t underline my book titles is because I don’t have a button for it, and I don’t know html to provide one. Every time I ask the admin for one he just says, “Just type leet-slash-hacker-backslash-hax-omg!” or something and of course I never remember. So that’s why my formatting is weird.
But back to the book! I’ve made a couple of things from the book so far, including a really fantastic dish that is based on a jelly roll. No joke — you bake it like a souffle then roll, slice it and top with a simple, savory tomato sauce… It’s crazy good. I’ll post it next week. The tomato sauce he accompanies a lot of his dishes with is this fantastically simple sauce with such a wonderful flavor — and it’s basic enough that you can do a lot with it.
So, I decided I would pair it up with some meatballs and serve it atop some whole wheat pasta. For our meatballs, I picked something from the Barefoot Contessa and, in the end, I ended up with a delicious meal that was prepared entirely in 30 minutes.
Novice chefs and those afraid of the device we call a “stove”, take note because this dish is for you.
So we start with James Beard’s simple tomato sauce.
Simple Tomato Sauce
From James Beard’s Beard on Pasta
1 – 28 ounce can Red Pack whole tomatoes in puree
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon dried spice of your choice (oregano, thyme, basil, etc.)
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
Put tomatoes, diced onion, spice, salt & pepper into a pot. Cook on medium for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes. Add butter, stir until melted and incorporated into sauce.
Note: For a smoother sauce, puree in a food processor or blender after the sauce has finished cooking.
That’s really all there is to it. Here’s my sauce in action:
Throw it all in a pot, cook, process with 4 one-second pulses to give it the texture you see in the photo.
To organize my time I put the sauce ingredients on the burner first, then threw together my meatballs. When there was only 15 minutes left in the game, I threw a pot of salted water on and cooked the spaghetti noodles.
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
1 pound meatloaf mix (combination of veal, pork & beef)
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (2 slices, crusts removed)
1/8 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, but try to avoid compacting the meat as much as possible. Form 1-inch balls and place in rows on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.
So again, it’s a little bit of work for a good turnout. Here’s the before and after:
As I’ve said before, I prefer baking meatballs over frying because it’s healthier, it’s easier to cook and clean up, and also because I never have to wonder if the meat is cooked all the way through. Put them in the oven for 25 minutes and “call it good”.
This was a delicious meal, easily prepared and easily tidied up afterward. Plus, there’s just something mentally satisfying about spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe it’s the kid in me, I don’t know, but this made me very happy. Serve with garlic bread and/or salad and feel like a kid again.