There are aspects of throwing a monthly dinner party that
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could certainly feel like another set of items on a to-do list. That is, if we'd let it. A thought this week as my husband and I checked off tasks, in preparation for this weekend's Spaghetti Saturday
“Our Monday-before invitation sent, I'm excited to see who'll be able to make it this month.”
A road trip with the puppies to Trader Joes, for flowers to fill the house “You're the woman who hosts the Spaghetti dinner .. right?”
Inventory – Beer? Wine? Grocery Run? Candles? Chairs? Grocery Run?
We do it for so many reasons; admittedly, all of them selfish.
We do it to purpose time with those we love or would like to know better. Realizing how hard it is to make new friends as an adult, how short life really is, and how fortunate we are to have incredible people surrounding us.
We do it to stay connected, knowing that even during months where it seems like a stretch, there's comfort in continuing the habit, the rituals that come with the preparation and having committed to something bigger than ourselves.
Never once have regretted the effort spent even if it's someone who stops by for a thirty-minute conversation, a bite or two of dessert, and a glass of wine. We're always glad we had that time.
The last person has barely headed home, and I'm already dreaming of next month's menu. When the thought of forming meatballs again, laughing and catching up on each other's lives, is about as close to perfection as I can imagine.
We've been hosting monthly spaghetti dinners for seven months now, with each bringing as much happiness as the first. I'm so grateful for the evenings, hoping they'll be a bright spot in everyone's month, and sustain us all as we go about our lives, and our not-always-so-exciting
One of my favorite parts? Testing new recipes ahead of time
In the weeks preceding, my husband can guarantee he'll come home to find at least one new meatball simmering in a bath of tomato sauce. More often than not, the food processor will also be pureeing a new salad dressing for drizzling over our side.
“Smells great in here.”
That night, we sat down to a dinner of pepperoni meatballs in a red wine sauce, and a crisp, bright salad on the side. He never has to say I can always tell when the meal has made the cut
For dessert, we have a bit of wine as we talked about things from our days. I remember how nice it feels to love my husband through a home-cooked meal. Knowing that soon we'll extend that same feeling, together
to those we love
Dinner draws to a close, as we stack the dishes in the sink, and dim the kitchen's light. I remind myself to be extra thankful when life comes naturally, days that flow effortlessly, with a feel that's easy and right.
Certainly, there will be other days, where I'll find myself making efforts to be conscious of life's bright spots — the times when work projects are due. Sleep wasn't a friend, or the cats have done what? Again?
The days when I practice simple truths like
“It's hard to be healthy and happy without eating well and getting some exercise. You won't be a better writer, without writing. Marriages don't grow without effort. Relationships aren't cultivated by staying at home in our comfort zones, and never reaching out.“
The days when I make meatballs, simply because I know how happy it will make him.
A new addition to our Spaghetti menu in April. Pepperoni Meatballs braised in a red wine tomato sauce.
At first blush, one may wonder what makes them so special, as they don't deviate far from the ingredients found in a more standard meatball, breadcrumbs to bind, parmesan cheese, and herbs sprinkled throughout. That's certainly true, except for one thing ..
The complexity of flavors brought to life after they're braised for a short time in a red wine tomato sauce, and a bit of Dijon mustard as a finish
ps: For other recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturday
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~ Adapted from Lady and Pups
Pepperoni Meatballs and Red Wine Sauce
- Pepperoni Meatballs
- 1 cup pepperoni, diced
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ medium-size onion, cut into chunks
- 1 lb ground beef
- ½ lb sweet Italian pork, casings removed
- ¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs (gluten-free if you’re avoiding gluten)
- ½ cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
- 1 tsp cayenne (more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp fine-grain sea salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Red Wine Sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium-size red onion, chopped fine
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 small celery stalks, diced fine
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- ¾ cup dry red wine
- 3 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
- 3 inch Parmigiano cheese rind
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp chili flakes
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- fine-grain sea salt, to taste
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- curly parsley leaves, chopped
- Make the Meatballs
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- In a food processor, add the diced pepperoni, parsley leaves, garlic, and onion. Pulse until the mix is chunky.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the ground pepperoni mix, along with the ground beef, ground pork, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano cheese, cayenne, crushed fennel seeds, smoked paprika, sea salt, and black pepper.
- Using your hands, gently combine just the mix is just even
- Shape the mixture into 16 meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Transfer them to the oven and back for 30 minutes, or until they're cooked through
- Make the Sauce
- In a large cast-iron skillet, over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, chopped onion, garlic, celery, thyme, and tomato paste, along with a generous pinch of sea salt.
- Cook until the onion is soft and the tomato paste has started to brown.
- Add the red wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated (~ 8-10 minutes).
- Then add the pureed tomatoes, Parmigiano cheese rind, bay leaves, chili flakes, honey, ground black pepper.
- Once the sauce has come to a simmer, reduce the heat to low.
- Cover the pot, allowing for a small opening for steam to escape, and simmer for an hour and a half. Note: You'll want to give the sauce a gentle stir every once in a while to prevent burning on the bottom.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the skillet, and allow the sauce to simmer another half hour or so. (The goal is to have the sauce's liquid reduced by about a third)
- Before serving, gently mix the Dijon mustard into the sauce
- To Serve
- Cook a pound of dried spaghetti noodles, according to package directions, to a couple of minutes before it's al dente. Drain the noodles and transfer to a large pot.
- Add enough sauce to generously cover the noodles. Cook for another 2 min until the sauce has coated all of the pasta.
- Transfer to a serving plate with the meatballs on top.
- Sprinkle the dish with chopped curly Italian parsley, and a generous amount of grated Parmigiano cheese.
- Serve immediately