Thursday, September 24, 2015

San Marzano Meatballs: A Recipe of Comfort

Despite our move-in day last Friday being pretty dang hot, the past few days have been fallish-ly cool.  Cool = cozy, in my brain (I admit it: I’m already getting the holiday itch), and this translates in the kitchen to cooking up some serious comfort food.  I’m dreaming of gloriously herbed and roasted meats and veggies, slowly simmered stews and soups, the occasional heaven of warm, yeasty sourdough bread or the buttery crust of pot pie.  Anything that compliments my desire to revel in the warmth and slowness of life is bound to find its way onto my dining room table.

That being said, it is only natural that Chef Reiton’s and my first home-cooked meal in our new little house fell into the comfort category. I found Marzano tomatoes for a great price at our little local grocery, so I used them to make a meal I am calling Marzano Meatballs (and, yes, everything about this town is little).

San Marzano tomato sauce with meatballs, parmesan and basil

While this meal isn’t necessarily fast in cooking time, it is very quick to get on the stove and is pretty hands-off and easy.  If you can smash, stir, and sprinkle, you’re good.  I've included the recipe below.  If you can’t find Marzano tomatoes in the canned tomato section of your grocery store (or you can but they are so fricking expensive in your area that you just can't do it), you can use any other canned whole peeled tomato—not the end of the world.  And BTW, now that we have an organized house and are back to cooking again, we are back to eating our mostly grain-free diet, so we ate these "plain."  They could be served over zucchini noodles or a pasta of your choice.

These quantities (as well as small green salads) nicely served 2 people.

Equipment needed: medium bowl, 10-in. skillet or larger (cast iron is best), slotted spatula, paper-towel lined plate, vegetable peeler

Nice, if you have it: 1 1/2-in. ice cream scoop (#40)

  • 1/4 lb.-ish ground beef
  • 1/4 lb.-ish ground pork or lamb
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed or finely minced

  • big glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 28-oz. can of whole Marzano peeled tomatoes
  • half a medium yellow or sweet onion (the root end is best, to keep the pieces all together), cut into two quarters (don't cut off the roots)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and broken open with the heel of your palm
  • a big drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • a big drizzle of balsamic vinegar

  • a big sprig of fresh basil, medium and large leaves removed, stacked, then slivered
  • a hunk of Parmesan cheese
  • baby/torn basil leaves from the above sprig for garnish/extra flavor

Here’s what you do:

Place the meats, salt, fennel, pepper, egg, and crushed garlic into the medium bowl.  Using your hands (or a wooden spoon if you don’t like to get dirty), gently mix and knead the ingredients together until well blended.

Wash your hands.

Heat up the skillet over medium heat.  Pour in a big glug of olive oil, then let it get hot and shimmery but not smoky (about 30 seconds).  

Using the ice cream scoop or your hands, make about 10 small 1 1/2-in. meatballs, dropping them into the pan one at a time as you make them.  Roll the balls around every couple minutes and brown as many of the sides as you can.  (The meatballs do not need to cook the whole way through.  They will be simmering in tomatoes shortly and will finish cooking then.) 

When a meatball is browned all over, take it out of the skillet and place it on the paper-towel lined plate to drain.  When all the meatballs are finished, pour the hot fat from the skillet into an old glass jar or tin can, but don’t wipe out or clean the skillet.  You want to use those residual brown bits and a smidge of meaty fat to help flavor the sauce.

Put the skillet back on the stove over medium heat, then add your can of tomatoes, juice and all.  Taking the edge of your spatula, gently cut each of the tomatoes in half (watch for shooting tomato guts!), then cut each of the halves in half.

Now take the meatballs and nestle them into the tomatoes.  Sprinkle everything with a pinch or two of kosher salt.  Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar into the tomatoes.  Next toss in the two quarters of onion and two smashed garlic cloves.  Gently give everything a good mix, using the edge of your spatula to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and mixing them into the sauce.  When everything is well coated with tomato juices, turn the heat down to medium-low, go pour yourself a glass of wine, and wait.  

meatballs simmering with San Marzano tomatoes and onions

Time is of the essence here.  The longer this simmers, the better it tastes/the more the tomatoes break down/the thicker the sauce will be/etc., etc., really enjoy that wine, set the table, and make a nice salad.  Stir everything occasionally to keep the parts all blended.  If you are in a rush, 20 minutes of simmering will suffice.  

When you are about ready to serve, sprinkle in the basil slivers and give the saucy balls one final good mix.  Scoop everything into one large bowl or individual serving bowls.  Take your hunk of Parm and your vegetable peeler and gently peel/shave Parmesan cheese into a mound on top of the whole mess.  Sprinkle everything with the baby basil leaves, and you're done.

Serve your masterpiece immediately and get ready to make some yummy noises!

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