Here’s a radical, and delicious, spin on one of our most basic and satisfying dishes: spaghetti and meatballs. In this case, I’ve swapped out tomato sauce for a rich-tasting sesame peanut sauce, and replaced Italian-seasoned ground beef with Asian-style ground pork.
The ingredients that define Asian here are fresh ginger, toasted sesame oil, scallions and cilantro. The meatball mixture is bound with egg and combined with finely chopped cabbage.
The latter might strike you as an unlikely ingredient, but it plays a key role in moisturizing the ground pork, which is quite lean and tends to become dry when cooked.
Don’t like cilantro? Replace it with shredded fresh mint or basil or a combo of the two.
Serve with spiced peas — frozen/defrosted, with sauteed caramelized onions that are spiked with mustard and cumin seeds — and, for a finishing touch, a refreshing salad of arugula, orange and sliced radish.
Be sure to knead the meat mixture a bit before rolling it into balls. The more you knead it, the firmer it will become.
For the sauce
3 tablespoons water
¼ cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and light-green parts)
¼ cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or more as needed
6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (unsalted)
For the meatballs and pasta
¼ cup minced scallions (white and light-green parts)
1 pound ground pork
1 large egg, lightly beaten
⅔ cup finely chopped cabbage, preferably napa cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, mint or basil, plus extra, chopped, for garnish
1½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely grated, peeled fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 pound dried linguine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
For the sauce: Combine the water, scallions, hoisin sauce, lemon juice, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, the teaspoon of hot sauce and peanut butter in a blender or mini food processor; puree until smooth. Taste and add salt and/or more hot sauce, as needed.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, make the meatballs and pasta: Combine the scallions, ground pork, egg, cabbage, the 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, toasted sesame oil and¼ teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl. Use your clean hands to mix and knead until well incorporated. Shape into 24 to 26 walnut-size meatballs.
Add enough salt to the boiling water so it tastes lightly salty, then add the linguine to the boiling water; cook for about 6 minutes, or just slightly less than al dente. Drain, reserving 1½ cups of the pasta cooking water.
Heat half the vegetable oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat.
Once the oil shimmers, add half the meatballs, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning them as needed; they should be browned on all sides and give a little when pressed with a finger. They will not be quite cooked through. Transfer to a plate.
Add the remaining vegetable oil; once it’s shimmering, cook the remaining meatballs the same way, and transfer to a plate. Reserve the skillet.
While the pasta is cooking, add the broth and sesame peanut sauce to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring with a spatula to dislodge any browned bits. Add the drained linguine; cook for 2 minutes, stirring and adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce, as needed.
Return all the meatballs to the skillet and toss gently to coat. Cook for a few minutes, until heated through.
Divide among shallow bowls. Top each portion with chopped cilantro. Serve right away.
Moulton is the host of “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” a public television show now in its sixth season. She writes a weekly column for the Associated Press and is the author of four cookbooks, including, most recently, “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.”
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