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Pasta Morocc-&-Roll (with Mushrooms, Tiny Meatballs and Cauliflower)
What Is It?
Egg-battered and lightly pan-fried cauliflower with tiny, garlicky meatballs of chicken and ham are simmered in an orange and cumin-spiced tomato sauce with fresh cremini mushrooms and sliced green olives and served on a bed of orecchiette pasta.
1 lb. orecchiette pasta
2 T kosher salt
1/2 lb. cauliflower florets, 1 1/2 in. long
2 eggs, separated
1 T. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 t. kosher salt
Vegetable oil for frying, about 3-4 T.
For the sauce:
2T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (set aside 2 T for the meatballs)
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 red or orange pepper, finely chopped
1 t. Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed in a garlic press
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 T ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 t. fresh ground black pepper
2 c. your favorite prepared Italian tomato sauce in a jar (e.g., Prego, Newman's Own, etc.)
1 T. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. cup water
1 c. green olives with pimientos, sliced
zest of 1 orange
2 T chopped Italian parsley
For the meatballs:
12 oz. cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
4 oz. smoked ham, diced
1/4 c. cracker crumbs or dried bread crumbs (more if needed)
2 T finely chopped onion (from above)
2 T Italian parsley, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed in a garlic press
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
I. Cook the Pasta and Cauliflower
1. Bring a large pot of salted water (6-8 qt.) to a boil over high heat. Add 2 T kosher salt. Add the orecchiette and cook for 6 minutes.
2. After 6 minutes, add the cauliflower florets to the pasta water and cook for 3 minutes, until tender, but not mushy
3. Working quickly, scoop out the cauliflower with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. (Don't worry if you scoop up a small amount of pasta also, you can remove it when the cauliflower is drained.)
4. Drain the pasta, and set aside. Cover when cooled.
5. Drain the cauliflower and place on a plate covered with several layers of paper towel to dry.
6. Heat 2 T vegetable oil in a large, deep skillet.
7. Prepare the batter: Combine the egg whites, 1/4 t. of salt, and 1 t. of water in the bowl of an electric mixer.
8. Beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted.
9 Add the egg yolks and flour, and mix briefly, just until combined.
10. The oil should be hot but not smoking. To see if the oil is hot enough: place a wooden spoon into the oil. If the oil is ready, little bubbles should form around the spoon.
11. Dip the cauliflower florets into the batter and shake off the excess.
12. Add small batches of cauliflower to the hot oil and cook, turning, until browned on all sides. Add more oil as needed.
13. Drain the fried cauliflower on paper towels, and set aside.
II. Make the Sauce & Meatballs
1. Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in the same large deep pan where the cauliflower was fried.
2. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion, and cook until translucent and softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the chopped bell peppers and 1/2 t. of the salt. Sautee until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes.
4. While the vegetables are cooking, place all the meatball ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until a thick paste is formed. If the mixture seems too loose, add some more cracker or bread crumbs to form a workable paste. Too thick, add some water.
5. With moistened hands, form meatballs about the size of large marbles. Place on a plate and set aside.
6. Add the crushed garlic to the vegetable pan and sautee about 2 minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic does not burn.
7. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their moisture. Keep cooking, stiring constantly, until all the mushroom liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
(Here's where my camera conked out on me! Thanks to DC for the remaining photos)
8. Add the cumin, black pepper, bay leaf, and the other 1/2 t. of salt to the saute pan. Saute 2 minutes, until the flavors begin to meld.
9. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, chicken broth, and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. After 10 min., the sauce should be a little soupy, thinner than traditional pasta sauce. Add more water if too thick.
10. After the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes, add the meatballs to the pan. Increase the heat slightly, and cook the meatballs for 5-7 minutes, until solid enough not to fall apart.
11. Lower the heat and add the orange zest and the olives. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
12. Add the fried cauliflower and stir gently until the cauliflower is heated through, about 5 minutes.
13. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 T of chopped parsley.
Serve the cauliflower and meatballs over the cooked orecchiette.
LET'S EAT!! :)
P.M. (Recipe Post-Mortem)
Overall, not bad for a spur-of-the-moment invention. I do wish I'd had a little more time to test the recipe, as I would definitely make some changes next time.
DC proclaimed this dish delicious, and I really loved the combination of the batter-fried cauliflower, mushrooms, olives and tomato sauce. I wished there was a bit more sauce, so would probably adjust the proportions of the ingredients next time. The meatballs are unusual, in that they are made from cooked chicken and ham, and a lot of fun to make. They were delicious as well, contributing a nice smoky flavor to the dish.
However, in retrospect, I think shrimp would have finished off the dish better. A note of sweetness from the shrimp would complement the orange and tomato beautifully. Next time, in place of the meatballs, I would sautee a lb. of shelled medium shrimp in a mixture of butter and olive oil, with some red pepper flakes to spice things up, and add the shrimp to the sauce at the last minute.
I'd also make the following adjustments to the dish: in place of the water in the sauce, I would use 1/2 c. of dry white wine, which would be great with the shrimp. I would also add 1/2-1 c. of rinsed, drained, canned chickpeas for some additional flavor and texture. I would toss these in at the point where the sauce simmers for 10 minutes, before the meatballs are added.
The one ingredient I really felt let down by was the pasta. I was SO annoyed, I could not find any Barilla or De Cecco brand orecchiette at the Teeter. This is because of their exceedingly irritating policy: If Teeter carries a product in their store brand, they yank the competitors off the shelf for a while, thus forcing us to buy the store brand, or go elsewhere. (They will deny this if asked, but it has happened to me so many times it CAN'T be a coincidence.) HT Traders is the Harris Teeter store brand, and I felt it was NOT GOOD. It was pasty and leaden, even though I carefully cooked it al dente. I knew that orecchiette was the perfect pasta for this dish and did not want to substitute another shape. HT Traders: 2 thumbs down for your yucky orecchiette!
Overall, I was very happy with the way the dish turned out.