Three Italian Side Dish Recipes: Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore & Eggplant Parmesan
What to do with so much tomato sauce?
How can you add extra pizzaz to that giant pot of homemade tomato sauce? Meatballs or chicken are delicious options. After serving spaghetti and meatballs to fifteen hungry guests (see Italian Spaghetti Sauce Made with Garden Fresh Tomatoes), I was able to reserve several cups of sauce for eggplant parmesan, which I happily assembled the following evening. But first, how to make the meatballs...
More Comforting Dishes:
- For moist meatballs, the addition of water is crucial.
- If the ground beef you purchase is already fatty you may not need to add oil. In Peru, where beef is ground without the addition of fat, oil is very important for tenderness and flavor.
- Use a scoop to form perfect meatballs that will cook evenly.
- Meatballs will be even more flavorful if the seasoned meat rests in the refrigerator for a few hours before use.
- To decrease fat content of your dish, you can opt to bake meatballs in the oven before dropping them into the sauce. See Amazon capsule at right for more information.
- If you're short on time, drop raw meatballs directly into the sauce. Setting aside time to brown the meatballs, though, enriches flavor.
- A cast iron skillet is best for browning meatballs as they won't easily stick or burn.
- Leftover meatballs are delicious eaten as a sandwich, on french or ciabatta rolls.
How to make meatballs
These meatballs are tender, moist and bursting with flavor! While living in North America I used to combine ground beef with bulk Italian sausage but, since the latter ingredient isn’t available in my neck of the woods, I spike ground beef with italian herbs and spices. Alternatively, you could use a combination of ground beef, pork or lamb.
Beefy Italian Meatballs
Herbs & Spices:
- 1 Tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon anise
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
- 2 pounds ground beef or beef/pork/lamb combination
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 Tablespoons parsley
- 2 cups bread crumbs, fresh
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cup water
1. Mix ingredients thoroughly with hands and form ½ inch meatballs
2. Sauté meatballs in batches without crowding, browning them on all sides and adding enough oil to the skillet to keep them from sticking. Use a spatula to turn them gently, being careful not to smash or break them apart.
3. Drop browned meatballs into sauce, stirring gently with a spatula.
4. Add water to skillet and deglaze, scraping up brown bits. Add this liquid to the tomato sauce and stir gently.
5. Simmer tomato sauce and meatballs for several hours.
6. Serve over pasta and sprinkle with grated parmesan.
7. Meatballs will be even more delicious the second day, if you can wait that long!
How to make chicken cacciatore
When we lived in the Andes, the owner of a coffee plantation generously gave me a farm-raised, free range hen. I made my first chicken cacciatore with that bird and although the dish was delicious, albeit wild and gamey, the meat was too chewy for my tastes. I realized, though, that the original chicken cacciatore was probably created with similar ingredients for the name literally means "hunter's chicken". A grocery store fryer will yield a delicious pot of fall-off-the-bone chicken cacciatore.
- 1 ½- 3 lb. fryer, cut into pieces
- For dark meat lovers: choose 2 pounds of legs and thighs
- For white meat lovers: choose chicken breasts and cut them into two or three pieces
- 3 Tablespoons capers (optional)
- 5 Tablespoons sliced green or black olives (optional)
- 10-15 white mushrooms, sliced
- Lightly sauté sliced mushrooms in olive oil, about two minutes. Add to tomato sauce.
- Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Sauté in about 1/4 inch of oil, in batches, about 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
- Add chicken to tomato sauce.
- Deglaze skillet with wine, broth or water, scraping up browned bits before adding to sauce.
- Add capers and olives, if using.
- Simmer sauce for one or two hours. The dish will be even more tasty if refrigerated overnight, as flavors will have a chance to marry.
- Serve over pasta, with a dinner salad and garlic bread.
How to make eggplant parmesan
This recipe turns out sweet slices of eggplant with a light, crispy crunch. The addition of silky tomato sauce and nutty cheese makes a meal that's hard to resist.
- 2 medium or 3 small eggplants, sliced lengthwise, about 3/4 inch thick
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 3 Tablespoons water
- 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 1 cup mozzarella, grated
- 1/2 cup parmesan, grated
- chopped parsley, for garnish
- Dissolve ½ cup salt in 2 cups of cold water.
- Soak eggplant slices in salt water for 1 hour to remove bitterness. Water will be black.
- Drain eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels.
- Set up a breading station with 3 platters or shallow bowls.
- Put flour in the first bowl.
- In the second bowl, beat eggs and water with a fork until foamy.
- In the third bowl, combine bread crumbs with salt and freshly ground pepper to lightly season. Don’t overdo the salt. The eggplant will have already absorbed some salt in the soaking process.
- Coat eggplant slices with flour, dip in egg mixture and lastly in seasoned bread crumbs.
- Fry in ½ inch of olive oil on both sides until golden brown and tender, adding more oil as necessary.
- Drain fried eggplant on paper towels.
- When all eggplant has been fried, arrange on a baking sheet. Cover with several cups of sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Broil for a few minutes until cheese melts.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately with garlic bread and a salad. Eggplant parmesan served on crusty bread makes a delicious sandwich.