Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Farfalle con le Polpette del Granchio

When my parents were in town, I wanted to make a unique meal for them, but I was not sure what to make.  I have previously made them pasta with lamb meatballs, as well as seafood risotto.  Those meals are based upon recipes and I wanted to do something that I could say was my own creation.  I started with the pasta and meatballs as a springboard, from which I would develop my own dish.  I was confronted immediately with my first obstacle: my wife does not eat meat and meatballs are traditionally either beef, a combination of meats (beef, veal and pork) or, my personal favorite, lamb.  I needed a substitute for the meat in the meatballs.

The first ingredient that immediately came to mind is crab meat.  I've made many a crabcake in my time and so I understood the basics of the meat with binding ingredients (bread crumbs, eggs, etc.).  However, I would need to alter the basic crabcake recipe, by excluding ingredients such as Worchestire Sauce and mustard, because they would not go well with a pasta dish.  After a lot of thought, I had in mind my own recipe for crab meatballs or, as they would say in Italy, Polpette del Granchio.

With the crab meatballs figuratively in hand, I turned my attention to the pasta.  I really did not have the time to make pasta by hand.  Although I would love to make handmade pasta for my parents, I wanted to spend the time with them, rather than over a pasta board.  As followers of this blog know, I don't buy pasta that I can make or have made by hand.  So, not only did I have to buy a pasta that I could not make on my own, but I had to also buy a pasta that I think would go well with the meatballs.

I had a pasta in mind but ultimately ended up going in a different direction.  My initial choice of pasta was orecchiette, also commonly referred to as "ears."  This pasta originates from the southern Italian region of Puglia or Apulia.  I've had this pasta before and I thought it would be something unusual, which would be a perfect complement to the unusual meatballs.  However, I could not find orecchiette in the store.  I came across a box of farfalle, or what are known as "bow-ties," which is a pasta that originated either in Lombardy or Emilia-Romagna.  The word farfalle actually derives its name from farfalla, which is the Italian word for "butterfly," and, if you focus on the pasta, that "bow-tie" shape can transform itself into a butterfly.

Finally, I turned my attention to the sauce.  Italians do not like a lot of sauce in their pasta; instead, they add just sauce enough to cover the pasta. I decided to make a relatively simple sauce using whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, diced onions, and some dried herbs and spices.  Sometimes the simplest of sauces work the best, as it did with this recipe.

Finally, while this is a dish of my own creation, I did have some help from my parents.  I had planned to add about 1/4 of a cup of Parmigiano Reggiano to use as a binding agent when making the crab meatballs, but in the rush of cooking, I forgot to add the cheese.  My father asked about the cheese and, realizing my omission, I needed to improvise.  I decided to roll the crab meatballs in Parmigiano Reggiano.  This last-minute step allows the crab meatballs to get a nice brown crust when sauteed in olive oil.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Crab Meatballs):
1 pound of lump crab, picked and rinsed
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of crushed red pepper
3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients (for the Pasta):
1 box of farfalle 
Water, for the pasta

Ingredients (for the Sauce):
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced finely
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of dried basil
1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
3 tablespoons of fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano

1.  Make the crab meatballs.  Beat the two eggs.  Add the crushed red pepper and the garlic.  Add the panko bread crumbs.  Mix well and then add the lump crab in small batches. Gently mix so as not to break up the crab too much.  Take the mixture and form balls in your hand, compressing them tightly.  Set each ball on wax paper and allow the crab balls to dry a little for about five minutes.  You should be able to make about twelve meatballs out of a pound of lump crab meat.

2.  Bread the meatballs.  Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to a small bowl.  Roll the crab meatballs in the Parmigiano Reggiano and try to coat all sides.

3.  "Brown" the meatballs.  Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium heat.  Saute the crab meatballs, in batches if necessary, turning gently until they begin to brown on most if not all sides.  Do not brown the meatballs too much.   Remove them from the pan.

4.  Make the sauce.  Seed the tomatoes and reserve the puree.  Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan on high heat.  Add the onions and saute until translucent, about five to seven minutes.  Add the tomatoes, the puree and a little water to begin the sauce. Add the basil, oregano, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper.  Stir all of the ingredients well.  Reduce the heat and allow the sauce to simmer.  Add the crab meatballs to the sauce and spoon the sauce over the meatballs.

5.  Make the pasta.  Bring a pot of water to a boil  When the pot of water is boiling, add the farfalle.  Cook for about seven to ten minutes according to the instructions on the package.  Drain the water.

6.  Finish the sauce.  Remove the meatballs from the sauce and plate three meatballs at the center of each plate.  Once all of the meatballs have been removed, add about 1/2 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano to the sauce and stir until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce.  Add the farfalle to the sauce and stir until the sauce coats the pasta.  As you are stirring, incorporate the fresh basil and flat leaf parsley with the pasta and sauce.

7.  Plate the dish.  Plate the farfalle and spoon some sauce over the pasta.  Add a couple of the meatballs and serve immediately.

In the end, you have a dish that focuses itself directly on the crab meatballs.  The sauce is minimalist, but that is not only keeping in the Italian tradition, but it ensures that the sauce is not taking away any of the focus from the  meatballs.  If there was anything that I could do to improve this recipe, it may be to add a little more sauce by perhaps, for example, adding some more puree when I was making the sauce.  I might have been a bit too minimalist in this case.  In any event, I think it was a great dish.


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