This is the first in a series of posts I'll make over the course of the year regarding what to do when faced with an unexpected obstacle during your day. This happens to all of us from time to time and it happened to me just this week. For example, the other day my daughter thought it was a great idea to skip her nap and spend the afternoon with me. Despite my best efforts she refused to go to sleep and skipped her nap entirely. Needless to say this made for a harried afternoon for both of us. There was lots of singing lullabies, extra bottles, reading books and even a few laps around the block in the stroller. But she didn't want to take her nap and when her mind is made up that is that, end of story.
Obviously when the she doesn't nap I lose my chance to do my Naptime Chef-ing. So, what am I to do? My answer is simple, when all hope is lost on preparing dinner in the afternoon I break the glass on one of my "emergency meals." Everyone has a few in their repertoire and so do I. The meal I produced on this particular day, spaghetti and meatballs, is numero uno on my list. It is not particularly inventive or exciting, but it works like a charm every time so I am keeping it around. In fact, even if I had several degrees from Le Cordon Bleu I would still make this meal for my family from time to time. It is easy to make, is healthy and filling, and I never get a hint of a protest from anyone when I put it on the table. Sure, I live in New York so I could easily call up one of the many restaurants in our area for delivery, but somehow this meal is much more satisfying and I don't feel like I am taking a slug of grease to the gut when I eat it.
Don't be under the impression that when I make this I am rolling together meatballs and cranking out homemade pasta either. My ingredients are all store-bought and I just give it little tweaks to make it my own. There is barely even a recipe here, but I thought I would tell you how I do it, just in case you need some ideas for freshening up your spaghetti and meatballs. We all need a little pick-me-up from time to time and so do our recipes. So, the next time your toddler decides to function on zero hours of sleep during the day I hope this helps you out.
Emergency Meal #1: Naptime Spaghetti & Meatballs - (inspired by my experience trying to get dinner on the table when my daughter skips her nap.)
1 lb. dry spaghetti, or any long pasta that you have on hand
Salt for water
1 Jar store-bought tomato sauce (my favorite is Newman's Own Cabernet Marinara)
1 Bag of pre-cooked meatballs (at least 12) from your butcher or grocer
Fresh Basil, chopped, if available
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 t. garlic salt from the spice drawer
Parmesan Cheese, grated - plenty of it!
1. Preheat the oven to 400.
2. Salt a pot of water for the pasta and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
3. In a saute pan with a lid add the meatballs and sauce. Simmer the meatballs in the sauce until they are hot all the way through.
4. Meanwhile, place butter and garlic salt in a glass bowl and stir together until completely combined. There is no need to whip the butter to get air in, you are just making garlic butter. I usually soften the butter in the microwave for 15 seconds to make it easier to stir.
5. Cut the baguette lengthwise and spread both halves with the garlic butter.
6. Close baguette back up, wrap in aluminum foil and place in oven for 10 minutes.
7. Monitor your pasta and meatballs and perhaps have a sip of wine.
8. After 10 minutes remove the baguette, open it up and sprinkle it with parmesan cheese. Return it, open faced, to the oven for 3 more minutes to get the cheese to melt and the top to toast. Remove from oven, cut into pieces and serve.
9. When pasta is ready, drain it in a colander and reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Then return the pasta to the pot. Add cooked meatballs and sauce to the pot and combine completely. Add some pasta water to loosen up the tomato sauce if you need to.
10. To finish pasta add a generous handful or two of parmesan cheese and combine it with the spaghetti and meatballs.
11. Slide spaghetti and meatballs into a large pasta dish, top with chopped fresh basil, and serve!
Naptime Recipe Props: This dish is almost foolproof. It is as old as the day is long but it is a good one so never think that it isn't worth adding to your menu every so often. Don't forget to save the leftovers, they are great for lunch the next day!
Naptime Stopwatch: Start to finish this has about a 25 minute preparation time, max. The best part is that you end up with a complete meal on the table and it takes very little energy to make.
Naptime Reviews: This dish gets rave reviews every time. The meatballs are good toddler food. Cut them into small pieces, make sure they are not too hot, and serve them straight away!