Sometimes the hardest part of making dinner is deciding what to make. But on other occasions, when the stars are aligned and the winds of fortune waft sweetly through the kitchen window, menu selection is ridiculously easy. This happened recently for me through the serendipitous collision of inspiration and tried-and-true recipes.
A couple of months ago as the Culinary Enthusiast was leaving for work he reminded me that it was my turn to cook dinner that night. I had a busy day ahead of me at the office and had given absolutely zero consideration to what I would be doing for our evening meal. My first thought was that we’d likely end up eating out. But, while I was having breakfast and catching up on my food blog reading, what leapt off the screen at me but a fabulous looking plate from Karen at Back Road Journal. (Karen’s blog features stories of her travels and tempting recipes; do visit if you haven’t already!) She was featuring a meal of spaghetti squash, chicken meatballs and basil tomato sauce. It sound delicious and was photographed so appetizingly that I immediately resolved to make a similar meal for our dinner that evening. Voilà, inspiration!
Mulling it over at odd moments during the day, I decided to use Karen’s meal idea but to improvise on a couple of my old trusty recipes. On the way home from work I stopped by my favorite market to pick up the squash, a pound of ground meat and some fresh basil (no nipping out to the herb garden in January around here!).
First thing when I got home I prepped the spaghetti squash and tossed it into a 400ºF oven to bake until tender. Then I got started on a thick and chunky tomato sauce, sweating chopped onions and garlic in olive oil, then adding bounty from my deep freezer: a container of tomato sauce , chopped frozen Roma tomatoes and some frozen slow-roasted tomatoes for additional rich tomato flavour and texture. A splash of red wine, a good handful of chopped fresh basil, a heap of dried oregano rubbed between my palms over the pan and freshly ground pepper added extra aroma and depth of flavour to the dish.
With the sauce slowly simmering, I started on the meatballs. I based these on my favorite hamburger recipe, Mar’s Burgers, which I make with a combination of ground chicken and turkey, minced garlic, minced red chili pepper and finely chopped fresh sage along with some other ingredients you can see in the original post. My usual burger mixture is very moist and delicate, and I wanted to strengthen it up a bit so the meatballs could stand up to jostling each other in the frying pan as they were being browned. To do this I used a little extra whole wheat breadcrumbs and excluded the usual big dollop of ketchup (its flavor wasn’t needed anyway, considering these meatballs would be served with tomato sauce). I formed the mixture into eight or nine golfball-sized meatballs and browned them in olive oil for about 10 minutes in a large oven-proof skillet. Then I poured the tomato sauce over top and slid the skillet into the oven to cook the meatballs through.
some miracle careful planning and intuitive cooking, in just over an hour, we had a colourful, flavourful, light and satisfying meal. The Culinary Enthusiast and I both savoured every bite.
All it took was some inspiration (thank you, Karen!), a couple of recipes I know by heart and a freezer stocked with the makings for a hearty tomato sauce. Oh yeah, the confidence to improvise didn’t hurt either!
My only regret? Not garnishing the plate with a bright sprig of basil before photographing it!