Dear readers, more proof that when I say something, I keep my word.
A few blogs ago, I reported back from Manhattan where I put in a couple of appearances at the annual Food Network Wine & Food Festival, the highlight of which was a fabulous wing-ding at a chi-chi renovated warehouse in Chelsea to raise money for hunger relief called Meatball Madness. Here, amid a bevy of stations dispensing wine, about 40 of the Big Apple’s top chefs cooked and served up their version of the meat dish du jour – from lamb meatballs to a veggie version to a delectable one stuffed with raisins and pine nuts.
The latter came from Michael Lomonaco who famously escaped the 911 disaster when he was executive chef of Windows on the World and whom I interviewed about that tragedy a few months later while attending the James Beard Awards in NYC. Now at Porter House New York, his amazing meatball creation was simply delish.
Inspired by the meatball mayhem in general and Lomonaco’s twist on a traditional Italian theme in particular, I began sleuthing the ‘Net and my cookbook library. After a few hours in the kitchen one recent evening and only a couple of tries, I came up with this recipe inspired by one of my favourite cookbooks: The New Best Recipe from the clever folks at Cook’s Illustrated magazine.
The secret to a good meatball is tender texture and robust flavour. The former is ensured by the tried-and-true trick of making a paste by soaking bread in milk or, preferably, buttermilk. Grated cheese is another Italian tradition that adds a taste punch. As usual dear readers, you’re welcome.
Use a mixture of ground beef and ground pork, if desired. You could thin plain yogurt with a little milk to get the same effect as buttermilk. Try this tasty option: Stir 1/3 cup raisins and 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (toast nuts in a dry skillet over low heat for about 8 minutes or until golden brown) into ground meat mixture until well distributed. I used the inside of a baguette for the bread paste with excellent results. You can use less or more oil for frying.
Two slices white bread, crusts removed, torn in pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup buttermilk or milk
1 lb/500g ground beef
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
Homemade or storebought tomato sauce
In bowl, pour buttermilk over bread; let sit a few minutes. With fork, stir into a thick paste.
Add bread paste to large bowl along with remaining ingredients except oil, onion and tomato sauce. Stir well to combine. Shape into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place on cookie sheet or cutting board. You should have about 15 meatballs.
Add oil to large heavy skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until edge of a meatball sizzles when placed in it. Add meatballs in single layer, not crowding skillet. Cook, turning at intervals, until well browned all over, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Add onion to skillet. Cook over medium heat until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, scraping up browned bits from bottom of skillet. Cook until heated through. Add meatballs. Cook a few minutes or until heated through. Serve over pasta or mashed potatoes.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.