Chef Notes: Holy Meatballs
There are few foods more perfect, more enticing, more versatile than meatballs. While a little messy (no one likes forming the balls, they get your hands slimy) they’re easy to make and perfect for making large batches and freezing for later. The serving ideas are almost endless. They make great appetizers with no sauce or in a marinara, creamy mushroom gravy, or barbecue sauce served with toothpicks. You can use them in soups or on top of warm/wilted salads. They’re awesome served in sandwich rolls with melted cheese and marinara sauce for a game day treat. You can’t beat traditional spaghetti and meatballs. Try crumbling them up on homemade pizza. Or do a gorgeous retro dish like Swedish meatballs.
Here’s my recipe, adapted from Mario Batali’s. I change this up from time-to-time by switching up the herbs and spices, leaving out the dried fruit altogether, or switching up the raisins for some other dried fruit, which believe it or not does add something to the balls. The recipe doubles well and you can substitute turkey for the veal or pork but I encourage you to use at least two different meats as your balls will have a better texture and a richer flavor. You can also use the fat free evaporated milk if you prefer and regular raisins or even other dried fruits like figs, apricots, prunes, and pineapple work well too.
Olive oil (not EVOO just regular)
1 large onion, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, finely diced
½ cup golden raisins, finely chopped
3 T basil, fine chiffonade
3 large eggs
1 can evaporated milk
1 whole nutmeg, finely grated (optional)
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground veal
Seasoned panko breadcrumbs
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oven to 375. In a sauté pan, caramelize the onions, garlic, and raisins over med-low heat. Remove from heat, stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly and add to a blender with the eggs, milk, and nutmeg to taste (I use all of it but not everyone is as crazy about nutmeg as I). Blend until fairly smooth.
Pour into a large mixing bowl with the meats. Sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs, remember you can always add more but I don’t know of any way to remove them. Season well with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix until incorporated. Don’t over mix. Over mixing can make your meatballs too dense. The mixture should be fairly wet so that when you form your test ball it holds together, but just barely. Add more breadcrumbs if necessary. Quickly sauté one or two golf ball sized balls in a bit of olive oil and taste to ensure proper seasoning. Adjust if necessary.
Hand form the rest of your balls, placing them in lightly oiled sheet pans with an inch or so between them, you want them to bake, not steam. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Test for doneness by cutting one open. They should be cooked through, with no pink in the middle. If you are adding them to a soup or sauce you can gently stir them in immediately, provided that the soup/sauce is fully prepared. You don’t want to overcook the meatballs by having them simmer in your sauce or soup for any significant amount of time, 10-15 minutes is more than adequate to incorporate the flavors. Or you can cool the balls for a few minutes and refrigerate for about one week or store in the freezer for 2-3 months.
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