Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I don't intend to make this into some kind of Rachael Ray fanblog, but here’s yet another great recipe from her. It’s just that I wanted to make soup to go with my No-Knead bread on Easter, and I’m yearning for an immersion blender so much, I refuse to make any more pureed soups until I acquire one. (Update: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to A’s mother, who bought me a Cuisinart SmartStick for my birthday; it’s currently winging its way to me from Amazon, and I’m already pondering what kind of pureed soup to make first.) That didn’t leave many options in my recipe archive, so I happened to turn to my copy of RR’s 30-Minute Meals, where I happened to have bookmarked this recipe. I had some oldish ground beef in the freezer that needed to be used up, and just the right amount of homemade chicken stock left over after making risotto, and some egg noodles taking up too much space in the cupboard (RR called for ditalini, but I figured I could break up the egg noodles into smaller pieces), so it felt like destiny.

Verdict: The recipe was super-easy. And it was tasty, like chicken noodle soup crossed with meatloaf—two comfort foods in one! Besides the egg-noodle substitution, I didn’t make many changes to the recipe. RR had asked for “Italian breadcrumbs,” which I’m guessing meant store-bought, flavored ones; I improved on that by crumbling up my own fresh crumbs from an old baguette and adding dried oregano and basil to the meatballs.

Yet again, however, I’ve noticed that the version of this recipe posted online at the Food Network site is significantly different than the one in my book. I can only conclude that with her huge media success, RR (or her Food Network handlers) retooled her earlier recipes to be a little fancier. The online recipe had a few improvements I’d like to incorporate next time: it called for more vegetables (2 carrots and 2 celery instead of 1 of each; I split the difference in my typed version below and said 1–2) and had some spinach added at the end, which would be yummy, more colorful, and more healthful too. I’ve made it optional in my version. The other differences, though, seemed silly. The Food Network version asks for mixed beef, pork, and veal for the meatballs, which just adds unnecessary complication to a simple homestyle dish. And for some reason the FN version has you cook the meatballs by boiling them in the soup, rather than browning them in a pan. I suppose that might save a little time, but I can’t believe it would help the flavor; the taste of browned meat is an important component here. Even in the professionally styled photograph that accompanies the online recipe, the meatballs look pale and gray and soggy. Blecch! Do yourself a favor and pan-brown them (which, it seems to me, also lets you render and drain away some of the beef fat instead of dumping it all into the soup).

1 pound lean ground beef
1 egg
½ cup plain fresh breadcrumbs
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ medium onion, chopped, plus ¼ onion, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1–2 carrots, chopped
1–2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pinches ground nutmeg
6 cups chicken broth
½ cup ditalini or small egg noodles
1 handful chopped Italian parsley
a few handfuls chopped fresh spinach (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine beef, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, basil, minced onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well with your hands. Form into ½-inch balls (I used a teaspoon measuring spoon to help me gauge the right amount to scoop up) and place in a nonstick skillet. Cook over medium or medium-high heat until browned, shaking pan every few minutes to brown evenly.

2. While meatballs are cooking, heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, chopped onion, and garlic; sprinkle vegetables with nutmeg, salt, and pepper and cook 5 minutes. Add broth and turn heat up to high. When broth boils, drop in noodles and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 8–10 minutes, until pasta is al dente.

3. Drop in meatballs and parsley. Add spinach if desired, and cook until it wilts.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

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