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A 3,000 Mile Love Letter

If you had told me a while ago that I’d be dating someone long-distance, I’d have probably laughed in your face.

Fast forward to 2013. It’s been a little over four months for me. My boyfriend, let’s call him “B” for now, lives in San Francisco and I live in New York City. We met online in early May, then face-to-face the weekend before Memorial Day. It was literally love at first sight, and we’ve been together ever since. That sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? It’s true. We talk every day, whether by e-mail, long-distance phone calls or texts. Recently, I’ve been introduced to this thing called Skype and gotten hooked. I foresee us Skyping very frequently in the future. Even though I’m not in B’s physical presence, being able to actually see him is no small gift. He flew out to see me in July; I saw him for a week a little over a month ago. He’ll be visiting me for a couple of weeks in November, after which I’ll be coming out to visit in January.

I think he really is The One, knock on wood. I feel comfortable saying that, even though I know he’ll be reading this later. *BIG GRIN*

So it is, with food. There are few things in life that, like love, are as beautiful as cooking for someone (particularly if it’s someone special in your life). To me, that’s one of the most romantic things you can do. Like the meatballs below, although it may take (for some) too long to make, love is what makes a relationship last as it slowly develops and blossoms.

This post is dedicated to B, to our shared past and present and to the possibility of our future, long may it be. I love you.

Polpettine di ricotta e vitello ("veal and ricotta meatballs")

Polpettine di Ricotta e Vitello (“Veal and Ricotta Meatballs”), adapted from Chef Marco Canora (of Hearth, Terroir and Terroir TriBeCa — all in New York City).

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
1 onion, peeled, trimmed and finely diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled, trimmed and finely diced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and finely diced
Sea salt
Freshly milled black pepper
Chopped fresh oregano, about 2-3 tablespoons
Chopped fresh Italian parsley, about 2-3 tablespoons
1 28-oz. can crushed San Marzano or plum tomatoes
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound ground veal (triple ground by butcher or at home), chilled
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly grated nutmeg, as needed
1 cup all-purpose flour, or as needed — (1)


(1) — If you substitute gluten-free flour, this recipe may be suitable for people who adhere to a gluten-free diet.

For the tomato sauce:

Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it turns a pale gold, about 1 minute. The reason you add the onion first is idea is so that the garlic doesn’t get browned too quickly.


Next, add the carrot and celery. If you have any celery leaves, chop them finely and add those. I could have probably diced it even smaller, but my workspace is limited and I don’t have a mezzeluna or food processor. Cook this battuto over low heat, stirring occasionally. It will undergo the process of insaporire (basically, you’re sweating out the flavors in the vegetables over low heat without browning or caramelizing them) and transform into a soffritto, which will form the base of the tomato sauce. You can’t rush this step … this will cook for roughly 20 to 25 minutes.



After the vegetables have gotten nice and soft, add the tomatoes, 1/3 that quantity of water, sea salt and black pepper (to taste), chopped fresh oregano and Italian parsley. Partly cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. The sauce is basically done at this point, but I’ll be using it as a braising liquid for the meatballs.

I probably let the vegetables cook unattended a little bit too long; you can tell because the celery leaves darkened a tad. Oh well.

For the meatballs:

The day before you make this dish, wrap ricotta in cheesecloth a day before serving and place in a sieve set over a bowl. Weight cheese, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Cheese should then have consistency of tofu.)

The next day, combine the ricotta cheese, the ground veal, the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, nutmeg and eggs in a large bowl and mix with hands until completely smooth, pale and homogenized, about 4 minutes. Test seasoning by frying a bit in hot oil. It should taste assertively salty (braising in sauce tames seasoning); adjust salt if needed. Cover and chill before shaping into meatballs. Note: You can skip the chilling step if you’re pressed for time. The meatballs shown in the pictures below were not chilled.


Dust a baking sheet and your hands with flour. Keep remaining flour nearby in bowl. Gently form meat into nine balls. Place on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.


Note: Chef Canora’s recipe makes enough for 9 2 1/2″ sized meatballs. I like them smaller.

Place about 1 1/2 inches oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry meatballs, moving them as little as possible. When bottoms are golden brown, after about 2 minutes, gently turn them. Fry until uniformly brown on all sides. Meanwhile, heat sauce in pot over medium-low heat and when meatballs are done, remove from oil with slotted spoon and add to sauce.


Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes; they can remain in the sauce for hours. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper. The sauce can be refrigerated overnight, and gently reheated. Serve meatballs in sauce alone, or over pasta, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano passed separately.

This recipe is sized for four servings.

Time: About 3 1/4 hours not including prep, plus 1 hour chilling and overnight draining of ricotta.


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