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.
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!