Living in the North End I am constantly asked, "what's your favorite restaurant?" I know people would love to hear a succinct answer but the fact is it depends on what I'm eating. I go to Maria's Pastry for cannoli and rainbow cookies; but if it's after 7pm and Maria's is closed (or I want some torrone with my cannoli) I go to Modern Pastry. If I want tiramisu I go to Villa Francesca. I also go to Villa Francesca for the house salad which is truly the most life changing house salad in town. For wine I go to The Wine Bottega (helloooo Friday night wine tastings!) If I want pizza and I'm alone I go to Ernesto's. If I'm with a friend Il Panino Express. And if I'm with out-of-towners Pizzeria Regina.
But if I want pasta, I stay home.
Our two room apartment is blessed with that most elusive of spaces, that most holy-of-holies in this congested city: a patio. Cue the heavens opening and the angels singing arias down on our concrete slab sandwiched in between the adjacent apartment building. There is more than enough space for a grill, a table and chairs and some potted plants - including a few basil plants.
There is nothing better than snipping off a few leaves of fresh herbs to season your food. And nothing better to accompany fresh basil than spaghetti and meatballs.
Like my mother before me, I always make my meatballs with a combination of ground beef, ground veal and ground pork. I also add a panada for moisture and season generously with salt, pepper and oregano with a little kick of hot pepper flakes.
I know that the supermarket shelves will tell there are dozens of varieties of pasta from which to choose. For me there is only one: Barilla. I have been eating Barilla pasta since the mid-90s when the two Maxes (our unforgettable exchange students - one from Venezuela and one from the Adriatic coast but both Italian and both named Max) lived with my mother and me for a year. After spending two years living in Bologna myself Barilla had made an indelible al dente mark on my culinary soul.
I love their Omega 3 pastas but lately I've started combining half regular spaghetti with half whole wheat spaghetti. The end result allows me to get a little extra healthy fiber without feeling like I just put a forkful of cardboard in my mouth.
For a simple lunch like this one I simply saute the meatballs in olive oil, add onions and cook until soft and caramelized. I then toss in fresh cherry tomatoes for a moment and top all of it on the pasta. Sprinkle with fresh basil and a little pecorino romano cheese and a simple, soul-satisfying meal is ready.