Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells | Image: Laura Messersmith

Between magazines, Pinterest, Instagram, and cookbooks at any given time I feel like there are about 1,000 recipes I’m dying to make. I try to be organized, but somehow there’s a notepad on my phone for those moments when inspiration strikes on the go (or as I’m drifting off to sleep), a Word document roughly organized by month/season, and of course multiple Pinterest boards all collecting ideas.

If I’m lucky I cook the recipe straightaway, but others I’m saving for the right occasion when the dish and the eaters are just meant for each other. That was the case here. I’ve been meaning to make this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook for nearly six months, rather a long time to wait.

As much as I love baked pasta dishes it’s tough when there are only two people to eat it, so there I am: waiting to make this recipe until the stars aligned and we could lure some folks to the neighborhood for dinner. Thank goodness too, because this dish is everything I hoped it would be - like homemade mac and cheese taken to a grown-up place by the addition of lemon, white wine, and sautéed artichokes. If that's not reason enough, how about this: you can completely assemble the dish up to a day in advance and bake it when you're ready to eat. A make ahead dish that feels special enough for company? Yes, please!

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells (serves 4-6)

Shell Ingredients:
25-30 jumbo pasta shells (about a 12-ounce box, I used Barilla)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped small
18 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup (1 1/4 ounces) finely grated Romano cheese
1 cup (1 1/2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauce Ingredients:
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3 teaspoons (2-3 cloves) minced garlic
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Make the Filling:

Melt butter in a heavy 12-inch skillet and cook it until it turns nutty and brown, stirring occasionally to keep the solids moving on the bottom of the pan. Once it is a nice nutty brown, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then the onions and cook them until they are lightly brown and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts and cook them until they are softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook it until it completely disappears.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly, before transferring it to the bowl of a food processor. Add both cheeses, the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and black pepper and pulse in the food processor until roughly chopped. You want a mixture with some texture, not a puree.

Note: If you don’t have a food processor, then make sure to cut your onions quite small and chop the artichokes on the fine side before cooking. Follow the instructions as written, then once the filling cools mix it in a large bowl.

Cook the Pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the shells just shy of al dente. Check the box to see if there are cook times for shells that will be baked - Barilla recommends 9 minutes, which was perfect. Drain and toss with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, to keep them from sticking.

Make the Sauce:
While the shells are cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan (or the wiped out pot you made the artichoke filling in, if you’re into spending less time scrubbing pots) over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour all at once and whisk it until smooth. Add the milk, a small glug at a time, whisking constantly so no lumps form. Once the mixture has reached a batter-like consistency, you can begin adding the milk in larger pours at a time, whisking the whole time. Once all the milk is added, add the garlic and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, it will immediately begin to thicken. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for two to three minutes before stirring in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt and black pepper, and chopped parsley. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon to taste.

Assemble the Dish:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer about half the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Press a generous tablespoon of artichoke filling inside each cooked shell – a cookie scoop will be useful – so that the shell is full, but the sides can still meet. I found that resting the pasta on a cutting board using one hand to hold the edges apart and the other to scoop worked best. Nest each pasta shell in the sauce, seam up. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake it for a final 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Individual Servings – Divide about half the sauce among 6 oven safe baking dishes (I used 16 ounce ramekins), divide the stuffed shells (5-6 shells fit snugly) among each dish and top with the remaining sauce as above. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F, followed by 5 minutes uncovered.

Make Ahead – Assemble the dish (or dishes) and cover each in foil. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Add 3-5 minutes to the original baking times.

Recipe re-written and slightly adapted from Deb Perelman’s Artichoke Stuffed Shells in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (pg. 125 ) link via Bon Appetit.

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, with organization. I used one large sauce pan, one large, deep sauté pan, a medium food processor, 9x13” baking dish (or 6 individual - the dishes pictured are Corningware 16 ounce ramekins), a colander, and a medium cutting board.

For tools I used a chef’s knife, microplane zester, a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, 1 tablespoon cookie scoop, rubber spatula, whisk, and a ladle or large spoon.

The Verdict:
Considering how fantastic the flavors are I fervently hope your stars hurry up and get their ducks in a row, because no one (even the artichoke adverse) should have to wait long to eat this dish. I bumped up the lemon zest a bit and added the parsley to the sauce, rather than sprinkling it on top to give the dish a subtle fresh note and make sure it didn’t become too heavy. Seconds were had by all and some simply roasted Brussels sprouts made the perfect accompaniment. All in all, a successful mid-winter dinner!

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemony Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi with Thyme Butter Sauce

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Barefoot and Friends – Cooking with Giada DeLaurentiis”

The Set-up: Ina and Giada have been talking about a cooking date for ages and today’s the day!

The Menu: Lobster Potato Salad, Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi, Chocolate Cassis Cake

0:47 – It’s a two-for-one deal - Giada is coming to cook with Ina today! Before she arrives, Ina is making lunch for them: Lobster Potato Salad.

1:20 – Pro Tip #1: To get perfectly cooked potatoes, after straining the boiled potatoes cover the colander with a kitchen towel to trap the steam.

2:32 – The inclusion of lobster in the potato salad is a nod to the last time Giada visited and they went to Montauk for lobster rolls. A new tradition in the making?

3:18 – Pro Tip #2: Buy pre-cooked lobster from the fish counter and avoid the messy (and traumatic?) process of boiling your own. Word.

5:14 – Giada, managing the most Italian errand ever, stops by Cavaniola’s Cheese Shop in a Fiat to pick up mascarpone, parmigiano and pecorino for gnocchi.

6:29 – As they’re sitting down to lunch it’s revealed that Ina makes lobster-something almost every time they get together, which G (may I call you G?) interprets as “I’m so happy to see you” special occasion food. Lucky girl, it could be worse!

7:55 – It’s decided that first they will make dessert and then move on to the gnocchi, which seems like an easy sell for both.

9:23 – They’re in the pantry gathering ingredients for the Chocolate Cassis Cake, which is right up Giada’s alley.

10:36 – Crème de Cassis for those not in the know (me) is black currant liqueur, which Ina says brings out the flavor in the raspberries that she’s serving with the cake.

11:21 – Ina asks Giada whether she considers herself a “cook” or a “baker" and learns that when G started she was more of a baker, due to her love of dessert, but now she’s both. Huh, never knew…

12:44 – Ina’s next question is whether Giada lines her cake pans with parchment paper. The answer: she knows she should, but she’s lazy. Love it.

13:05 – While the cake is in the oven, Ina and Giada take a tour of the gardens. G by her own description is the “world’s worst gardener” but does recognize the fresh thyme growing in the kitchen garden and gets permission to snip some stems for their gnocchi.

14:42 – Back in the kitchen to melt chocolate for the ganache that will cover the cake with Giada acting as sous chef taking direction from chef Ina.

15:39 – The parchment paper has done its work and the cake is released from the springform pan without incident. Ganache time!!!

16:50 – To her credit, I think Giada has licked every chocolate coated bowl and spatula in the kitchen. A girl after my own heart.

19:13 – Onward to the Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi which will be Ina’s first attempt at gnocchi. I've never made gnocchi either, we can be twins!

20:48 – Giada says that these are non-traditional gnocchi because the mascarpone cheese and flour take the place of the potatoes. Works for me!

21:24 – Now that the gnocchi dough is made it’s time to form them using two small table spoons. Ina wonders how many she has to make before she becomes Italian.

22:17 – The little golden gnocchi are into the salted boiling water to cook – only 4 minutes per batch!

23:12 – In a bit of garden-to-table action Ina is put in charge of making a butter sauce with the thyme they picked earlier. (They agree that thyme + lemon is heavenly match.)

24:30 – Just so we’re clear, a cheese based dumpling/pasta, has been covered in butter sauce, and then sprinkled in more cheese. Giada and Ina laugh at their own wicked ingenuity.

27:29 – I suppose it’s dinner time by now, so they sit down to a gnocchi dinner while Giada agitate s for dinner to be served.

28:35 – Back to finish off the Chocolate Cassis Cake with some berries marinated in sugar and MOAR cassis, which they joke they’ve been getting into over the afternoon.

29:51 – Giada is literally jumping up and down a la a small child on a sugar high with excitement over the chance to eat some cake. Looks like someone is going to be in a boozy dessert coma….

Final Thoughts:
I love that Ina’s recipes are so adaptable. Lobster, salmon, tuna – any of them work.

Flourless chocolate cake. That is all.

I wonder if it’s awkward when two famous people in the same field socialize for the first time? What do they talk about?

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’m just dipping my toe into fresh pasta making and know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to bread dough – both of which made trying Giada’s unconventional Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi (no potatoes involved!) intriguing. I naturally learned a ton…

Mixing – I was a little unsure about the texture of the gnocchi dough but upon closely observing Giada’s I was convinced that I had it right. Strangely it closely resembles a cross between buttercream frosting (fluffy) and scone dough (sticky).

Forming the Gnocchi – This does take some time, but thankfully there’s no special equipment needed just two teaspoons from your silverware drawer. Giada suggests the “quenelle” shape, which is made by scraping a teaspoon of dough back and forth between the two spoons until it forms an oblong oval. Without weighing the dough it’s tough to be sure that they’re all the same size but do your best to eyeball it so that they’ll cook at a similar rate. Use a light touch when rolling the final shape like forming the most delicate meatball.

Storage – I wasn’t quite ready to cook the gnocchi once I was done forming them, so I was thankful to discover that the can be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic on a sheet tray. I just left them on the floured one I used when I was forming them.

Cooking – I used a 3 quart sauce pan and put between 4-5 gnocchi in at a time so they’d have plenty of space and wouldn’t drop the water temperature too much. The recipe calls for waiting until the gnocchi begin to float, then start timing (5 minutes only, 6 is too long). It’s easy to over cook gnocchi and I found the best results were to start timing as soon as the gnocchi just began their ascent, otherwise the pasta began to deteriorate. Not good!

Serving Size – I was able to form about 28 gnocchi with the dough, which would serve two to three very generously or four people as a smaller portion. These are quite rich and puff up when cooked, so a little goes a long way. I’d recommend serving these as a small starter course and or as a main balanced with a nice bright green salad or light vegetable side.

Flavors – I made one very small change to the butter sauce to lighten it up – cheese, plus cheese, plus butter seemed a little much – adding the juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons). I also didn’t allow it to brown since I thought the nuttiness would overwhelm the delicate flavors in the gnocchi. I think my way is perfect, but I leave it up to your moods and preference.

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Fairly, yes. I needed a large mixing bowl, electric hand mixer, microplane grater, rubber spatula, measuring cups, two teaspoons, a rimmed baking sheet, large sauce pan, medium sauté pan and a utility knife.

The Verdict:
I’m fairly obsessed with anything bright and lemony, especially pasta and Giada's Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi has lemon in spades, even more so with my tweaks. I handled the gnocchi as gently as I could to keep them from becoming tough and they came out light as a feather and beautifully tender. Somewhat surprising given the amount of cheese involved.  This is a rich dish, not for the counter of calories, and would be perfect as a first course in small portions or as the most elegant of comfort food dishes when only something decadent will do and the summer feels far away. 

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “All-Aboard”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are going out on their friend’s new tug boat and bringing a picnic lunch.

The Menu: Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad, Roasted Eggplant Spread, Coconut Cake, Fresh Lime Daiquiri

0:46 – Jeffrey thinks they should get a boat, Ina imagines having to “swab the deck” so they’re tagging along with friends instead. Smart girl.

1:18 – First up: Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad. Ina is cooking the shellfish (peeled, deveined, etc.) in the oven. Brilliant. The fewer pots of boiling water needed, the better.

2:27 – Pro Tip #1: Dress the cooked orzo while it’s still warm so it absorbs the flavor.

3:31 – Pro Tip #2: Use fresh herbs in this salad and if there are extras, chop them and freeze in small containers. (This totally works, especially when the herbs are going to be cooked anyway!)

4:02 – The veggies – scallions, red onion, fresh parsley, cucumber – are in the salad and now the roasted shrimp along with their olive oil and juices are stirred in.

5:13 – I assume that the shrimp and pasta are roughly room temperature at this point since Ina doesn’t seem concerned that the herbs or feta will wilt.

6:45 – Off to the local boat and fishing supply shop to source nautical table décor. Ina wisely sidesteps using an American flag as a table cloth, but finds a cool yacht ensign instead.

9:24 – Back at the house to make the Coconut Cake, an adaptation of her wildly popular Coconut Cupcakes recipe.

10:36 – As with many of Ina’s desserts, this one is taking no prisoners – 3 sticks of butter and 5 large eggs.

11:09 – Pro Tip #3: Sifting the dry ingredients serves a dual purpose: mixing and removing any lumps or small pieces.

12:11 – This is an interesting mixing process – eggs, butter and sugar; then alternating the dry ingredients with milk. I wonder why?

13:28 – As Ina bakes the cakes and frosts them with cream cheese frosting we see the boat being prepared for their voyage.

14:33 – Pro Tip #4: When making a layer cake there are two options. For a modern, flat surface turn the top layer over so it’s bottom side up; for a rounded, old-fashioned look put the layer on top side up.

15:20 – I don’t especially care for Coconut Cake, but even I can get behind a cake that is forgiving to the inexperienced froster – thanks shredded coconut!

19:14 – Next up, the Roasted Eggplant Spread, which I think is basically baba ganoush. Now, try to tell me you didn’t just imagine Owen Wilson shouting “baba ganoush!”

20:47 – We continue our table setting adventures with some white nylon cord sourced from the sailing supply shop.

21:02 – And do I detect a hint of shade being thrown in Sandra Lee’s direction? Ina says that talk of “tablescapes” makes her “craazy.” Preach!

22:50 – Napkin folding is over, time to finish up the Eggplant Spread, which Ina says she’ll serve with pita bread. I like that you can clearly identify all the ingredients – pieces of red pepper, parsley, red onion.

27:08 – Ina’s really on a tear today – she’s baffled by drink recipes that mix a single cocktail, because “who drinks one cocktail? I’m having a party.” Well said, well said.

28:40 – Today she’s making Fresh Lime Daiquiri, because if they’re on a boat then it has to be a rum-based drink. Works for me!

29:32 – They’re out on the dock sampling the cocktails and digging in to the eggplant spread.  Seriously, I think somebody let Ina pre-game this party; she’s having a grand old time.

29:57 – Sailing off into the proverbial sunset with plates of coconut cake. Sounds pretty good – invite me next time, please!

Final Thoughts:
Ina never ceases to amaze me with her ability to pull off an elegant, simple and portable (!) menu.

I really need to remember Ina’s Pro Tip #5: make cocktails in batches the next time we have a party.

One of these days we’re going to see Ina just buzzed enough to confirm my suspicions that she’s hilariously snarky. Closer and closer my friends… 

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
You’re probably asking yourself, “what could you possibly learn from making Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad? It’s just pasta and some shrimp right?” Well friends, I contend that every time you cook a recipe, whether it’s the first time or the 1,000 variation that there’s a lot to be learned, even from the humble pasta salad.

Timers: When the ingredients and cooking method are simple it’s essential to be precise. The same way a drop of red wine on a crisp white shirt is glaringly obvious, gummy pasta or rubbery shrimp have no where to hide. When the difference between “just right” and “oh, dear…” is about 30 seconds it pays to set a timer!

Shrimp: That said, roasting shrimp is really, really easy. I defrosted and peeled them before drizzling with olive oil, kosher salt & pepper. They turned lightly pink after about 4 minutes and were fully cooked a few seconds later.

Pasta: Ina recommends dressing the orzo with lemon juice and olive oil while it’s still warm so that the pasta absorbs the dressing. Great idea, but to keep the texture “al dente” even with the added liquid I just slightly under cooked the pasta draining it about 30-45 seconds before the recommended cook time (for Barilla orzo it’s 9-10 minutes, I drained mine at about 08:45)

Herbs: Think of the fresh parsley and dill like you would arugula or baby spinach in a traditional salad. The herbs in this salad are a leafy green addition of vibrancy and texture, more than a garnish or seasoning, although they obviously serve that purpose too. Dried herbs have their place. This salad is not it. (Sorry spice rack.)

Onions: If you look closely you’ll notice that I skipped the red onion in this dish – for me the scallions added enough flavor and “heat” and I liked the way everything except the shrimp fell in the cool jade green color category. Your mileage may vary, but something to consider.

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Sorta, kinda. I used a baking sheet, a medium mixing bowl, a large pot, medium sieve, medium cutting board and a chef’s knife. I also needed a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, small spoon (for scooping out the cucumber seeds), mixing spoon or spatula, and parchment paper.

The Verdict:
I’m a sucker for pasta salads in vinaigrette and Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad one has a great balance of tangy feta, cool cucumber, and mildly sweet shrimp. Normally the thought of combining seafood and cheese sets off alarm bells, but in this case the shrimp and feta work well together, especially when paired with the crunch from the cucumber and leafy green herbs. This salad would be perfect for a light, but satisfying summer dinner, or as a “dish to pass” for a backyard party. It’s definitely easy to increase the quantity and I have a feeling that the leftovers will only grow in power, so making a little extra will be well worth the effort…

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Baby’s First Bash”

The Set-up: Ina’s close friends, the Libermans, are celebrating their first grandchild!

The Menu: Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti, Truffled Popcorn, Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp, S’mores

0:40 – Ina’s theme for the party is “nursery food” which I guess translates to things that adults and children will like. Interested to see how she makes that work.

1:23 – First up Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. Ina says that rhubarb has a very short season and I believe it since I think I’ve only tasted it once in my life.

2:15 – Pro Tip #1: Dissolve a little cornstarch in the orange juice before adding it to the fruit filling. The cornstarch will help thicken the fruit “goo” and mixing it ahead will prevent lumps.

3:41 – The party is taking place outside, so Ina has called up the troops – namely her friend Greg Yale, a professional lighting designer – to transform her already magnificent garden into a wonderland. This is one lucky seven week-old baby.

4:08 – We’re back with Ina to make the crumble topping, which she admits is basically the same from recipe to recipe with the usual suspects (butter, flour, brown sugar, oatmeal…)

5:36 – This particular crumble combination - strawberry rhubarb - is in honor of a recipe Ina once made up on the fly for the grandmother of honor. Even the Barefoot Contessa has to wing it from time to time.

9:43 – Time to make the main course: Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti. Ina emphasizes the need to add moisture, in this case fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk, since they’re made from turkey.

10:35 – We check in with Greg, who is literally up a tree hanging café lights. This is a man who is dedicated to making things “magical.”

11:21 – Ina’s recipe calls for mincing up prosciutto to add flavor to the ground turkey, but to me prosciutto is just sort of salty and not all that flavorful.

12:39 – These meatballs are supposed to be spicy, so in go the red pepper flakes. I wonder if using hot Italian sausage instead of sweet would be too much?

13:14 – Instead of frying/sautéing the meatballs they’re going into the oven to roast, which sounds like a fantastic way to get out of standing over a pot of hot oil. Eww.

14:20 – Meatballs go in the oven as Greg and his team tether huge, helium inflated and presumably illuminated, balloons around the garden. These are going to look awesome.

19:06 – The meatballs are done and beautifully browned, now for a little shortcut: store bought tomato sauce. Glad to see that even Ina sometimes turns to a jar once in a while.

20:25 – Outside with Greg for the big lighting reveal and while I do think it’s a little over the top for six people it also looks really cool.

21:40 – Back inside to pop the bag of popcorn and melt truffle butter for the Truffled Popcorn. Newman’s Own in case you’re wondering. I think it’s the Natural Tender White which I can assure you is really good – not too salty, no strangely yellow butter.

22:33 – Full disclosure: I cannot STAND truffles. Seriously, even a whiff of one in a dish and I’m done. I do like the idea of doing a flavored butter or oil with popcorn though – something to explore perhaps…

23:08 – The Liberman family arrives as Jeffrey pops the cork on some champagne the lights twinkle in the trees. #jealous

26:44 – The spaghetti is done cooking and now it’s time to serve the most enormous bowl covered in sauce and meatballs. Yum!

27:37 – Ina’s whole philosophy of cooking could probably be summed up as “nursery food for adults.” She’s so great at taking comfort food classics and dialing up the sophistication without losing the familiarity. Obviously I’m a fan.

28:11 – Outside with the giant bowl of “meatballs and sketti” and everyone dives in over a beautifully candle-lit table. Next comes the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with vanilla ice cream.

29:55 – Finally, the moment we’ve actually been waiting for: making use of the fire pit to light marshmallows on fire for S’mores. Ahh, summer.

Final Thoughts:
Note to self: cook something with rhubarb this summer when it’s in season.

I want to try cooking popcorn in infused oil, maybe rosemary? This bears further trial.

Also, investigate giant inflatable balloon lights and a fire pit…

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’ve cooked meatballs before, actually about a month ago, so trying Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti was more about trying a different flavor combination and cooking technique.

Meatball Assembly – This mixture was a bit stickier than the original combination and I suspect that’s due to the lack of dry breadcrumbs. I assume they aren’t needed because turkey is so lean and the fresh ones absorb enough of the juices from the sausage. Fluff the mixture together with a fork, or gently fold together with clean hands to keep them from packing too tightly. Portioning to exactly the same size takes a little guess-timation – I find that if I divide the mixture into 4 parts and then try to roll 6 meatballs (for a total of 24) from each quarter it comes out about right. Full disclosure: I ended up with 23 this time, so close enough.

Meatball Cooking – These meatballs are cooked on sheet trays (don’t forget the parchment paper!) in the oven, which is a far simpler technique than cooking them in olive oil on the stove. I put both sheets in at the same time and probably should have switched them halfway through – the bottom ones were a little browner. So, lesson learned!

Final Simmer – I am officially a huge fan of doing this in the oven. It takes the same amount of time and there’s no stress about having to stir or watch the sauce. I just cover and stick the pot in a 350 degree oven where it can pretty much hang out as long as you need it to and then like magic it’s ready whenever the pasta finishes cooking. I’ll also point out that it opens up a burner on the stovetop and the fewer items I have bubbling away there the more in control I feel.

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Fairly, it felt more so than the first meatball recipe, but upon reflection it actually requires the same amount of items. Once again, I used my trusty 5.5 qt French oven for sauce and meatball simmering, in addition to a second large pot for the pasta, a colander, medium mixing bowl, two baking sheet (assuming you’re making the full recipe) and medium cutting board. For utensils, a dinner fork, a wooden spatula, a liquid measuring cup & measuring spoons, a microplane grater, and an instant read meat thermometer. I also needed a small food processor to prep the fresh bread crumbs.

The Verdict:
I made Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti when we were having a group of visiting college students for dinner, and while making meatballs from scratch does take effort I also think it’s kind of the perfect home-cooking meal. I hadn’t fully considered what a treat it might be after months of dining hall food. Based on how many meatballs disappeared it was a popular choice. In this version I used sweet Italian sausage and a classic tomato basil sauce, but even with my relatively low tolerance for heat I’d up the spice-factor and use hot Italian sausage and/or an arrabiata sauce in future iterations.

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti | Image: Laura Messersmith