These past few days have been my favorite kind of New York days. The air is crisp, odd for July, and the sun never gets too hot. The sky is a kind of piercing blue that we usually don't see until September and the puffy clouds floating across the heavens are as light and airy as marshmallows. At night, it's cool enough to pull a thin cardigan around my shoulders.
The city empties out around holidays, which is always a treat. It's not that I don't like having my fellow New Yorkers around, but the calm that descends upon the city on a holiday is something that I'm loathe to share. The steady rumble from the streets dies down, the buzz of construction sites and the hum of air conditioners cease, and you can hear birds in Manhattan again.
There's something kind of special about this other New York, the one that only those without summer shares and highway dreams have. When I pass the few people on my street who have stuck around as well, we smile at each other and nod. Usually, we don't even acknowledge each other's presence. But we're special now, we're in a club together - at home, in this city, on a holiday when everyone else has fled for clogged roads and beaches. The check-out girl at the supermarket where I've just bought five pounds of ground beef ignores me on most days, but today we're both having people over for a celebration, so she decides to share her mother's burger method with me and we share a conspiratorial smile.
I don't care about fireworks and I'm doing my best to ignore the threat of a terror spectacular. This slowing down, this different pace, this is what the Fourth of July is all about for me. Trying not to break my rickety grill as we load it up with hot dogs and burgers, sipping a chilled beer with friends who've come from uptown, downtown, crosstown and Queens, (hoping that the mouse doesn't choose this particular moment to come out and play), introducing a little monkey named Charlotte to the pleasure of afternoon barbecue - this is how we'll be celebrating.
As for the meatballs I'd so much looked forward to making, they were nothing more than just fine. Surprising, right? After all, you'd think that garlic oil and pancetta and red pepper flakes would have done quite a good job of perking up this rather pedestrian concept of a dish. Not to mention the tuna! But the meatballs were nothing special. You couldn't taste the pancetta (which never gets browned), the garlic was almost too faint to be noticed, and parsley was entirely the wrong herb to use alone here. The tomato sauce helped a good deal towards pepping them up, but I won't be making these again, not when there's Jamie Oliver's recipe for tuna meatballs that sounds like it will be far more satisfying.
Wouldn't you agree? Happy Independence Day, everyone.
3/4 cup bread cubes from stale baguette
1/2 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds tuna, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced (1/4 cup)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups mild tomato sauce
1 pound spaghetti
1. Soak bread in milk in small bowl for 30 minutes. Place work bowl and blade of food processor in freezer.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in medium pan over medium heat. Add garlic and stir occasionally until translucent, about 3 minutes. Set pan aside to cool.
3. Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, put in chilled food processor bowl with tuna and pancetta. Pulse until just coarsely ground and combined. Refrigerate briefly. Add garlic and its oil, 2 tablespoons water, egg, parsley and red-pepper flakes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grindings of pepper. Lightly but thoroughly mix with hands.
4. Make a small meatball and sauté in a bit of oil over medium-high heat to taste for seasoning. Adjusting seasonings if necessary.
5. Heat sauce in a 6-quart pot over low heat.
6. With moistened hands, form 20 meatballs, each about 1 3/4 inch in diameter (about 1 1/2 ounces). Heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in pan on medium high until hot but not smoking. Cook meatballs in batches until well browned all around, 6 to 8 minutes. When done, transfer to sauce with slotted spoon. When all the meatballs are in sauce, partially cover pot and gently simmer for 1 hour, stirring carefully occasionally.
7. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti until almost al dente. Drain and serve in bowl with sauce and meatballs spooned over.