Chef Alisa Barry, founder and creative director, Bella Cucina Artful Food
Backstory Everyone in Barry’s family of nine looked forward to her mom’s spaghetti dinners. “Except for me,” says Barry, who spent her formative years north of Chicago and moved to Dunwoody as a teenager. “I loved her meatloaf. But ironically, I just wasn’t that enthralled with pasta.”
After graduating from Vanderbilt, Barry moved to San Francisco to attend cooking school and interned at Alice Waters’s famed Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley. The restaurant’s emphasis on locally grown foods helped open her mind to the exquisite cooking she discovered on trips to Italy. “I tasted really good pasta, really good olives,” she says. And she was hooked.
In 1989 she returned to Atlanta and continued to hone her California-meets-Tuscany sensibility—first with a European-style sandwich business, then with Bella Cucina Artful Food, a line of artisanal products that includes pestos, pasta sauces, condiments, and spice blends and is sold in Whole Foods Markets and specialty food stores.
Both Barry’s childhood and travels inform the cooking she does in the restored 1911 Sears kit home in Midtown that she shares with her husband, restaurant designer Smith Hanes. Her take on spaghetti and meatballs (she calls them by their Italian name, polpettini) is a modern interpretation of her mother’s workaday staple. “The meatballs remind me of my mother’s meatloaf; the bacon fat is my ode to the South,” she says. Barry freshens up the simple marinara with roasted cherry tomatoes, and replaces noodles with wide rectangles of fresh pasta (available in groceries or at Buckhead’s Storico Fresco). The presentation recalls freeform lasagna but is faster to prepare and more stylish on the plate.
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for plating
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1⁄8 teaspoon chile flakes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
Few sprigs fresh basil
2 cups cherry tomatoes
Salt and black pepper
½ pound ground pork
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for plating
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
12 ounces pasta sheets, cut in 4-by- 6-inch rectangles
3 to 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
To make the polpettini and sauce:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and the bacon drippings over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned. Remove garlic from the pan
and set aside.
Add onion and chile flakes and cook until onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic, canned tomatoes, and basil sprigs. Simmer over low heat, covered, for 30 minutes.
Place the cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast in the oven until bursting, 25 to 30 minutes.
In a bowl, combine the pork, ½ cup Parmesan, breadcrumbs, fennel seeds, egg, 1⁄8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Form into 1 ½-inch balls. Place on a sheet pan and bake in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Add meatballs to tomato sauce; simmer for additional 10 minutes.
To cook the pasta:
Boil 4 quarts of water. Add a generous pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add cut pasta sheets and cook just until al dente, about 3 to 4 minutes. Test one corner of a sheet for doneness. Drain the pasta in a colander.
On each plate, place a heaping tablespoon of sauce. Overlay with a sheet of pasta, spoon more sauce over, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Add a few dollops of goat cheese. Repeat until you have four layers. Garnish each with cherry tomatoes and 3 to 4 meatballs around the plate. Drizzle olive oil around the pasta and sprinkle with more Parmesan. Serves 3 to 4
This article originally appeared in our June 2014 issue under the headline "Thatsa modern meatball."