Sunday, December 11, 2011
Sunday Recipe: Sicilian Meatballs with a Basic Tomato Sauce
I had purchased a loaf of rustic Italian bread from Breadworks and used about two-thirds of it. There it sat on my butcher's block in it's paper bag. It was too hard for sandwiches, yet I left it there. Finally, that stale hunk of bread taunted me. Silently, I could hear the bread whispering recriminations as I tried to catch up on my viewings of Top Chef and Parks & Rec. I tried to get on with some writing assignments, but the bread was almost shouting at me. This went on for a solid day. The next day I woke up and thought -- meatballs.
I have to admit, this is not the first time I've awakened to the thought of meatballs. As a proper food-loving Italian-American, I grew up making meatballs. Traditionally, in my family, we always used a mixture of ground beef and ground pork for meatballs designated for spaghetti sauce, and beef at Christmas and Easter, when we served wedding soup with our ravioli. In more recent years, I started making turkey and spinach meatballs, which are a favorite in my house.
I addressed the bread. My mother's traditional beef/pork meatballs? But I just wasn't feeling it.
Okay, maybe turkey meatballs? I took the bread's non-answer as a no.
Um, wedding soup, I offered? This time, that heel of bread just gave me a blank stare. I think it raised an eyebrow. If it had eyebrows, that is.
Something new, something drastic was required. Clearly. It was time to wade out into culinary uncharted territory. I decided to try my hand at Sicilian meatballs, which are both spicy and sweet, with a kind of sneaky, addictive quality. Trust me, you're gonna want these. And don't let the ingredient list scare you off.
You will need:
1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs (more on this below)
1 palmful of fresh parmesan cheese
1/4 finely chopped onion
1 finely diced clove of garlic
healthy pinch of crushed red pepper
1 pound of Italian sausage (you can use hot or sweet, depending on how hot you like things)
1 palmful of pine nuts, toasted
2 palmfuls of dried currants (more on this below)
The prep (wherein I hector you about using fresh breadcrumbs):
I'm going to really strongly suggest that you make your own breadcrumbs here. The ones you buy in a can at the supermarket are (a) too finely ground and (b) dried like the Sahara. The beauty of using some stale bread is that the chunks are, well, chunkier. So instead of getting this finely ground bread dust, you get these shards of bread mixed through the balls. If you insist on using the store bought breadcrumbs, about an hour before you start mixing, add a couple of tablespoons of milk to the breadcrumbs and let those moisten up.
If you're going to take my advice, make this recipe when you've got some left-over bread on hand. Or, go buy a loaf of Italian bread, cut off about 1/4 of it, and let that piece of bread sit out over night. You want it to be stale, but not too stale. Then cut the bread into cubes and run it through the food processor. You will end up with some fine particulate bread, and some bigger chunks and shards. Put the bread aside.
In a dry, non-stick skillet, toast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes, tossing gently as you go. Put those aside.
Now, to the mixing. If you can get loose sausage, do, but if not, it's easy enough to cut away the casing and free the sausage. Put the sausage in a large mixing bowl. Add everything to the bowl at this point -- eggs, breadcrumbs, currants, pine nuts, onion, garlic, red pepper and cheese. Mix thoroughly but gently.
Cover a cookie sheet with foil (trust me, this will help with clean-up). Lightly brush on some olive oil and then make the balls. Handy tip -- run some luke-warm to cold tap water and rinse your hands repeatedly. The meat sticks less if your hands are wet. Make the meat mixture into balls -- bigger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball -- and line them up on the cookie sheet. Lightly brush the tops of balls with olive oil, sprinkle with some kosher salt and pop into an oven heated to 350. You want to bake these until the balls are lightly browned (about 20 to 30 minutes.)
As with all sausage products, I think they're better the longer they cook, so I put them into my sauce for hours before serving. (There is a recipe for quick sauce below). Also, the flavors of the pine nuts and currants and sausage do amazing things over time, so if you are planning ahead, these are even better the next day. I really like these meatballs with thin linguini, but any pasta you like will work. Mangia.
42 ounces of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (this is one large can [28 oz] and one small can [14 oz]
1 to 2 tablespoon of tomato sauce (approx.)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 cup of heavy red wine (approx.)
palmful of dried basil
pinch of crushed red pepper
In a deep sautee pan, heat some olive oil and add the garlic. Sautee for just a few minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Then add the wine, again bringing that to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Then add the basil and crushed red pepper. It's a quick and easy sauce that I use at least once a week. Give it a taste to see if you need more salt? More wine? Toss in the meatballs and reduce to a low simmer. If the sauce gets too thick, just add water.