Mission Accomplished: The Ultimate Meatball
As a chef, I am constantly searching for new recipes or my personal favorite, the ultimate recipe. Nothing can be greater than creating the ultimate succulent roast, the ultimate creamy cheesecake or the ultimate golden chicken soup. For me, this requires researching a multitude of recipes, and, much like a mad scientist, obsessively dissecting each recipe, until I can fully understand, what each ingredient does. Then manipulating each ingredient’s proportions, until I reach the ultimate recipe. Sometimes I need to tweak the preparation method, sometimes the quantity of an ingredient… And sometimes it just happens. So was the case with this recipe. For the recent dinner party I was catering, I was asked to create a completely custom menu. A menu that was unique in all its glory. Every item on that menu was a new recipe. However, one of them left me with a lost feeling: the meatball. The clients asked me to create a meatball that was hearty, yet melted in your mouth. Sure, I have made meatballs before… Huge tennis ball sized ones to share with a friend dripping in gooey tomato sauce. But this was different. They wanted succulence and airiness. They wanted them juicy and to stay together. There were many components to this meatball that, unfortunately, none of my previous recipes would produce. So I turned to my good friend – GOOGLE. He had saved me from the roads to bad recipes and burned tidbits. And I GOOGLED… and GOOGLED… late into the night, early in the morning; comparing ingredients, methods, old recipes that Italian grandmothers slaved over. Eventually, I came up with the ultimate meatball. A combination of cheesy, creamy ricotta and tender veal rendered a dreamy meatball. I paired it with a zesty Spanish style Romesco sauce made with roasted red peppers and hazelnuts. At the end I zested a fresh lemon, some Parmesan and a nice crumble of toasted hazelnuts. The lemon zest left a fresh pop on the palette, followed by the hazelnut crunch; the salty and buttery Parmesan was just what was needed before finally tasting the juicy meatball. A perfect bite! After serving these at my clients dinner party, I witnessed grown adults practically licking their plates clean and fighting with forks over the last meatball. Needless to say… Ultimate Meatball – Mission Accomplished!
Veal & Ricotta Meatballs
Adapted recipe by Marco Canora via New York Times
*Both the sauce and the meatballs can be made ahead of time. I seared my meatballs, covered them with sauce and refrigerated them over night. They were amazingly delicious the next day. They can also be frozen and reheated in the oven with the sauce.
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound ground veal (triple ground by butcher or at home), chilled
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon salt, or as needed
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg, as needed
vegetable oil for frying
1 cup flour, or as needed
4 cups Romesco tomato sauce
1 lemon for zesting
1. Wrap ricotta in cheesecloth a day before serving and place in a sieve set over a bowl. Weight cheese, cover and refrigerate overnight (cheese should then have consistency of tofu).
2. The next day combine all ingredients (except oil, flour and sauce) in a bowl and mix with hands until completely smooth, pale and homogenized, for about 4 minutes. Test seasoning by frying a bit in hot oil. It should taste a bit salty. Due to the amount of time they will be braising, much salt will be lost. Cover and chill before shaping into meatballs.
3. Dust a baking sheet and your hands with flour. Keep remaining flour nearby in bowl. Gently form meat into golf ball size balls. Place on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled (about 1 hour).
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Place about 1 ½ inches oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, roll meatballs in ball of flour and shake of access flour.
6. Fry the meatballs, moving them as little as possible. When bottoms are golden brown (after about 2 minutes), gently turn them. Fry until brown on all sides.
7. Place meatballs in a baking pan with high sides (those great disposable foil pans are perfect for this!). Cover with sauce and bake, covered in foil, for 30-35 minutes. They can remain in the sauce for hours.
8. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Can be refrigerated overnight, and gently reheated in the oven. Serve meatballs in sauce alone, or over pasta; sprinkle fresh Parmesan, great some toasted hazelnuts and lemon zest.
1 can roasted red peppers
¼ tablespoon toasted hazelnuts
1 ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice country bread, about 1-inch thick
1 can canned San Marzano tomatoes
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ lemon, for juicing
a splash of sherry vinegar (use a mild wine or balsamic vinegar instead)
1. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, wait a moment (for it to heat) and fry the slice of bread on both sides until golden brown.
2. Remove the bread from the pan and cool. Cut it into 1-inch cubes and set aside.
3. Return the pan to the stove over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the peppers and sauté for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes. Season with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the tomato juices have evaporated. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture in the pan.
4. In a food processor, pulse together the toasted nuts, garlic and fried bread until the bread and nuts are coarsely grounded. Add the pepper-tomato mixture and process for 1 minute more. With the machine running, slowly pour in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil and process until you have a smooth purée. Don’t worry, the Romesco will “break” (separate into solids and oil); this is normal. Add the parsley, season to taste with lemon juice, sherry vinegar and more salt, if you feel, it needs it.
5. Put the mixture back on medium heat for 10-25 minutes and let the flavors marry.
*Toasted Hazelnuts: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minuets until skins start to darken and blister. Remove from oven and wrap in a dishtowel and let cool for 5 minutes. While nuts are still in the towel, rub vigorously to remove as much skin as possible. There will still be a fair amount of skin attached to nuts, but it doesn’t matter in the finished dish.
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