Building a Better Meatball
June 23, 2014 • Meat & Poultry
I just spent the weekend in Aspen at the Food & Wine festival, and after eating and drinking myself silly for two days, all I wanted when I got home, for some odd reason, was a simple dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. As the dinner was simmering, both my husband and I remarked that we probably haven’t had this for dinner since we used to gather our young kids around and let them pick what they wanted for Sunday dinner. But I’ve learned a few tricks since then, including one very special one on my recent trip to Italy, and the result is the best meatball I’ve ever made.You might recall that last year I received my pork belly from the processor sliced in rashers instead of whole as I requested. I still have some of that in the freezer, and need to use it up. For ground meats I have grass fed beef and bison – both of which are really lean, in fact too lean to make a tender meatball. While I was at the cooking school in Italy in May I was sent to get the ground meat for our meatloaf. The meat in butcher shops in Italy is usually ground to order, and I was told to get a mix of 1/3 pork and 2/3 beef and to ask the butcher to grind the meat twice to make it a finer texture. That stuck with me, so I put my pork belly slices through my meat grinder twice before mixing it into the beef/bison and adding seasonings.I’ve shown you other recipes where I cook meatballs on a baking sheet in the oven. This creates a caramelized exterior, and when sauce is added, it doesn’t really penetrate the meat. But if you simmer the raw meatballs in your sauce, you’ll both flavor your sauce and the sauce will flavor your meatballs, and the result will be a silky, tender meatball. Funny, now that I think of it, that’s how my mom taught me to make meatballs when I was just a tot in the kitchen!
- 2 pounds ground beef or bison (extra lean)
- 1 pound pork belly, ground twice (not cured bacon)
- 1 cup dried breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ¼ cup freshly minced parsley
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon finely ground pepper
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 8 cups marinara sauce (or other sauce of your choice)
- Combine the beef with the ground pork belly and use a fork to mix well until the meat is all the same color. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well with a fork (do not press down on the meat with your hands to mix or you'll lose the light texture of the meat mixture).
- Portion the meat into your desired size for meatballs and gently pat into a ball. While you form the meatballs, bring the sauce to a simmer in a large stockpot. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce, and push them into the sauce gently with a wooden spoon. Bring to a simmer again and continue simmering, gently moving the meatballs around to ensure they don't stick, until the meatballs are fully cooked, about 45 minutes to an hour. Serve with grated cheese either alone, or on top of pasta or creamy polenta.
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