Another Sunday, another column by Mark Bittman in the New York Times Magazine. Earlier this year his long-standing column, The Minimalist, ended its run in the Wednesday Dining Section and it appeared, more or less intact, in the weekend mag.

I was flipping through the magazine on the subway yesterday, primarily reading Mireille Silcoff’s profile of Kris Carr, Every Cancer Has a Silver Lining, when I came across Bittman’s column, all about herbs. The photo had me at hello, or mangia, or Eat! Truth is, I’ve been cooking more with herbs this summer anyway and a friend has been espousing the virtues of more chlorophyll in our diets. One way to do this is of course eating more greens, and it helps to chew them really well or drink in the form of smoothies.

But mostly it was the photo that prompted me to declare that Sunday’s dinner would be green meatballs with linguine and herb sauce. The basil in my garden was practically shouting “pick me now!” and I hadn’t eaten meat all week, so I figured a few meatballs would make for a nice Sunday sup.

I made a few substitutions to Bittman’s recipe. I couldn’t find any chives so I used finely diced scallions instead. And my favorite butcher in Manhattan is closed on Sundays so I couldn’t get the veal-pork-beef combination I would’ve liked—even though I was running errands in that neighborhood, arg!—opting instead for grass-fed ground Sirloin. Sirloin is a pretty lean cut, which is why it’s nice to add in the juicier pork and veal if your butcher isn’t closed.

Oh, and one more change. I didn’t have a food processor or blender nearby so instead of pulsing the herb mixture into a sauce or pesto I just chopped the herbs and garlic as finely as I could and mixed the ingredients by hand.

The thing about this dish is you could use whatever herbs you have on hand, or growing in your garden, or whatever you happened to pick up at the farmer’s market. Chives, cilantro, basil, chervil, tarragon, basil, oregano, parsley (curly or flat), all would work. Serve with a green salad and some homemade garlic bread, and you may enjoy eating your greens as much as I did.

Pasta With Green Meatballs and Herb Sauce
From Mark Bittman, 14 August 2011

2 c finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 c finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 c finely chopped fresh chives
1 thin slice white bread
1/4 c milk
1/2 lb ground sirloin, pork, lamb, or a mixture
Salt and black pepper
6 tbsp olive oil
1 lb pasta (linguine works well)
1 garlic clove
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Mix together the basil, parsley, and chives. Soak the bread in the milk for 5 minutes then squeeze out the excess milk; discard the milk. Combine the bread with the meat, half of the herb mixture, salt and pepper. Shape the mixture into 1-inch meatballs.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Put 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, 5-10 minutes until cooked through.

3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. While the pasta is cooking purée 1 1/2 c of the herbs with 4 tbsp oil, the garlic, salt, and pepper in a hand blender or food processor. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 c of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the herb sauce, adding the reserved liquid if the mixture is dry. Top with the meatballs, garnish with Parmesan and any remaining herbs. Serves 4.

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