Category Archives: Beef

Midnight Brunch Meatballs! This time, in Sicilian!

Thank you to everyone who came out for Midnight Brunch on 11/11/11! Who knew I could stay up past midnight, let alone eat lamb vindaloo (that’s me plating the lamb vindaloo above) and chicken curry in the wee hours of the morning without turning into a pumpkin? What a fantastic time–what a great crowd! Brian Quinn’s extra-smooth cocktails were superb (the Dutch Derby was my personal fave), and I absolutely fell in love with Emily Cavalier’s Persian rice (scroll down, and the last photo is Emily and myself in Scott and Jessica’s amazing cave-cum-portal to ancient Egypt!). An extra thanks to the event volunteers: Brian, Rachael, Dani, Bryce, Stacie, and Topher (that’s him with the bowl of meatballs) as well as the American Lamb Board for generously sending us a gorgeous leg of lamb for the vindaloo.

The Sicilian meatballs I made  were a massive hit–I made about 125 meatballs and they were all devoured within 20 minutes! Now that’s serious eating. I figured it would be extra swell of me to share the recipe, which is based on a meatball recipe I learned while growing up in Chicago from the Campo family (hey Mr. and Mrs. Campo!). I posted a more traditional version earlier this fall that I made for Eugene Mirman’s Brooklyn Comedy Festival. Needless to say, those went pretty fast too–I had meatball groupies following me out of the even asking if I had any more “magical meatballs.” Lucky for them, not only are my meatballs “magical” but they’re also legal.

Sicilian Meatballs

Makes about 2 dozen golf ball-sized meatballs

These meatballs are based on the ones I made for the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in September–with a few shakeups like a pork and beef combo, currants, and mint. A disclaimer: I have never been to Sicily, however, this is how I imagine a Sicilian meatball tastes, perhaps with pine nuts added too (I think they get in the way of a nice ball cross-section, and don’t care for their earthy undertones, but hey, try it out and let me know your conclusions!).

  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus a good pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese plus 3/4 cup for sprinkling
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1  pound 80- to 85% lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups neutral oil (I like grapeseed)

1. Place the currants in a small bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the panko, a good pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl and add the milk. Set the mixture aside until the panko has absorbed all of the milk (about 10 minutes).

3. Whisk in the eggs and then and the Pecorino, shallots, garlic, basil, mint, salt, and pepper. Drain the currants and add to the breadcrumb mixture. Stir to combine.

4. Add the ground beef and ground pork, gently breaking them into small knobs as you add them to the bowl. Using your hands,  gently toss the mixture together until combined. Be careful not to knead or overmix and knead the meatball mixture. If you warm up the fat in the ground beef too much, your meatballs will be tough and stressed and your meatballs won’t be succulent and juicy.

5. Heat the olive oil and neutral oil in a large, deep skillet (I like busting out the cast iron for this) over medium heat. Once the oil is fragrant gently press and roll a chunk of the meatball mixture into a golf ball-sized ball. Add the meatball to the oil and fry it on all sides. Taste it for seasoning and adjust the salt or pepper if needed.

6. Shape the remaining meatball mixture into balls flattening them slightly (this allows you to easily brown them on all sides). Add 8 to 10 to the pan taking care to leave about 1-inch between meatballs (the frying meatballs should sound like a even-keeled applause, not angry white noise—adjust the heat if necessary). Cook the meatballs until both sides deeply browned, about 10 minutes total. Rest the meatballs on their sides around the pan’s perimeter to brown the edges, turning them as necessary. Add more raw meatballs to the center of the pan. Continue to cook the meatballs, turning them as needed, until browned on all sides. As they are done, use tongs to transfer them to a plate and sprinkle with lots of Pecorino, piling the meatballs on top of one another as you go, and always sprinkle Pecorino on top of the sizzling hot meatballs. Serve hot or at room temperature.

A special thank you to Clay Williams who took the photographs–thanks for making me look so good!

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Filed under Appetizer, Beef, Dinner, Pork, Press/Appearances, Recipe

Fantastically and Imperfectly Perfect Meatballs AND Eugene Mirman Meatball Mania!

I’m super psyched to be demo-ing meatballs this Sunday, September 18th at The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in  at Brooklyn’s Bell House! The recipe was supposed to be featured in Saveur Magazine a few years back and was cut for space (the story, however, about the family it came from, as well as several of their recipes like Sunday gravy, cauliflower fritters, and “gavadill“, still ran). Funny because it’s probably the dish that dictated the course of my life. So, you know, meatballs are kind of a big deal to me.

My mom never made a meatball in her life (though she was pretty good at ordering them from the local take-out joint). And I don’t have an Italian grandmother either. But I do have a very best friend at whose house I spent perhaps more teenage hours at than at my own. Her parents are Italian, and I was their stray adopted kid that they invited to the table several times a week to break bread. On lucky Sundays, we’d be eating rigatoni with gravy, meatballs and sausages on the side. Total manna.

The meatballs come to me from Chicago’s Little Italy (Taylor Street to be exact). They originated in Calabria where my girlfriend’s dad’s family, the Campos, grew up. Mr. Campo, a hair stylist-turned-pastor, learned to make them by watching his mom make her meatballs and gravy. To this day he is convinced that while his back was turned, mama Minnie threw in a little something in the mix that she never disclosed. And I’m sure there’s a secret ingredient the Campos chose not to divulge during our meatball session too. Nonetheless, these meatballs are the ones I grew up with and are thus my gold standard ball: super country-style, crispy-fried around the edges, tender within, punctuated with loads of Pecorino cheese and parsley, and with a strong notch of garlic for good measure. And all beef—no pork (save it for the sausages and gravy). I’ve made a few changes here and there–panko breadcrumbs instead of unseasoned cubes, fresh basil in addition to parsley, and fresh garlic in lieu of granulated. Aside from those small tweaks, the meatballs are unchanged.

I’ve had meatballs all over New York City, and most restaurant-style meatballs are too fancy for my taste. Too fluffy, too smooshy on the inside, too porky, too fatty, too much. I like humble meatballs. Irregular and misshapen. The kind that look like they actually came from human hands, not from an ice cream scoop dipped into giant tub of meatball mix.

My favorite way to eat the Campos’ meatballs was straight from the skillet while still sizzling—I’d eat them fast so they didn’t burn my fingers; I’d inhale air between bites so they didn’t burn my mouth. Mrs. Campo (who inherited meatball making detail—Mr. Campo still governs over most batches of gravy) piled the crusty orbs pyramid style on a platter and then inundated them with aggressive handfuls of Pecorino cheese. Eventually they’d be added to a giant pot of Sunday gravy (made with lamb ribs, pork ribs, and San Marzano tomatoes). But everyone in the house knew that the best time to snatch one (or two or eight) was now.

Superbly crusty and browned, the Pecorino fused on to the surface, semi-melting yet still pleasantly dusty-salty on top. Upon realizing her stack was dwindling faster than she could pull the fried balls from the skillet, Mrs. Campo would move the platter. She didn’t hide them or even really confiscate them. She just made getting to them impossible without being subjected to her “really? You’re really going to try to steal another meatball?” glare. The meatballs have since become a standard at my kitchen table. And the glare, well, it’s in my back pocket for a rainy day.

Fantastically and Imperfectly Perfect Meatballs

Makes about 2 dozen golf ball-sized meatballs

Mrs. Campo uses unseasoned bread cube stuffing for her meatballs. I like panko. I also like to add fresh garlic and cut in some basil to the parsley (to keep it Taylor Street authentic, use 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and all parsley, no basil). For the best gravy on Earth, click here. I like to grind my own meat. Chuck roast steaks are great because the fat and sinew have been mostly removed. I also like to add in some skirt steak or hanger steak for its robust and intensely beefy vibe. If grinding your own meat remember to keep the machine elements and the meat chilled until you’re ready to grind.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 cup whole milk

2 large eggs

3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese plus 3/4 cup for sprinkling

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

2 pounds 80- to 85% lean ground beef

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/4 cups neutral oil (I like grapeseed)

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the panko, a good pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl and add the milk stirring until it is absorbed. Whisk in the eggs and then and the Pecorino, garlic, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Add the ground beef and gently toss with your hands until combined. Be careful not to knead or overmix. If you warm up the fat in the ground beef too much, your meatballs will be tough and stressed.

Heat the olive oil and neutral oil in a large, deep skillet (I like busting out the cast iron for this) over medium heat. Once the oil is fragrant gently press together a golf ball-sized meatball. Use cupped hands to compress it rather than roll it. Add the meatball to the oil and fry it on all sides. Taste it for seasoning and adjust the salt or pepper if needed.

Shape the remaining meat mixture into balls flattening them slightly (this allows you to easily brown them on all sides). Add 8 to 10 to the pan taking care to leave about 1-inch between meatballs (the frying meatballs should sound like a even-keeled applause, not angry white noise—adjust the heat if necessary). Cook the meatballs until both sides deeply browned, about 10 minutes total. Rest the meatballs on their sides around the pan’s perimeter to brown the edges, turning them as necessary. Add more raw meatballs to the center of the pan. Continue to cook the meatballs, turning them as needed, until browned on all sides. As they are done, use tongs to transfer them to a plate and sprinkle with lots of Pecorino, piling the meatballs on top of one another as you go, and always sprinkle Pecorino on top of the sizzling hot balls. Serve as is or with your favorite Sunday sauce.

4 Comments

Filed under Beef, Dinner, Recipe