The Comfort of Meatballs

Sweet summer rain. There is nothing in this world more comforting than waking up to the gentle patter of rain beating on your window after a few weeks of triple digit temperatures. (Fahrenheit, not Celsius!) Days like this I'd sit around the house listening to a little old school vocal jazz while reading a book, napping, or maybe even play testing for the next Grand Prix. It was almost a shame to get out of bed to leave the house this morning, but I've been determined to replenish my spice cabinet for the past few weeks. So, after a quick shower and a little child wrangling, I was headed for the farmer's market

It's been nearly a year since I last visited the farmer's market, so I was relieved that a lot of my favorite vendors were still a participating. Walking around in a light drizzle, Connor and I got to sample a lot of sweet summer fruits and some delicious local honey before I picked up my herbs

I have to admit there is something about the farmer's market that makes everyone super friendly, myself included. I found myself speaking with the vendors more candidly and even started a conversation with a couple of elderly women while we we sat under the overhang munching on some fresh tamales and watching the rain.
Unfortunately, I didn't really have a lot of time to dawdle, so after a few more stops I was back home and firing up my kitchen.

Now, I've been longing for meatballs and pasta for a few weeks now. It's the most comforting food I can think of, and on a day like today, it seems like the perfect meal to share with my friends and family. I actually busted out a few different cookbooks for this one and finally decided to tweak one of my favorites from Alton Brown. (You can see the original recipe here.) I love making meatballs because it really let's you get your hands dirty and everyone can help out with shaping.

For this recipe, I decided to use fresh spinach because I had some in the fridge that hadn't disappeared yet. So, after stemming and a good wash, I just threw them in a lidded dutch oven with some fresh parsley to wilt down. No need to add fat or water when you do this. Just make sure you turn the spinach occasionally to make sure the leaves wilt evenly. I usually let them sit in a colander resting in a bowl for about ten minutes before I squeeze and chop for the meatballs. After that, it's into the bowl with everything else to mix.

I also substituted the Parmesan for Pecorino cheese. I just love the heartier flavor that are often found in cheeses made from sheep or goat's milk, and it pairs well with the lamb and beef that are going into the meatballs. I also cut back on some of the salt since Pecorino cheeses tend to have a higher salt content than Parmesan. Some Herbes de Provence, (in this case, rosemary, summer savory, thyme, basil, marjoram, oregano, and fennel), really helped to round out the flavor profile.

As fun as it is to feel the raw meat squishing between your fingers, try not to squeeze the meat and fillings together. This causes the mixture to overheat breaking down the fats that help make a juicy meatball.

Wrap your scale in plastic wrap for easy clean up!

Weigh out 1 1/2 ounce balls to make about 30 balls (give or take a smaller one that went to the cats). 

Photo by Kenny Thomas
Roll quickly and gently until perfectly round.

Roll in bread crumbs. I like to use a soup bowl with a handle because I can roll them around without having to handle the meat too much. 

Place them in the cups of a mini muffin pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Loosely cover with foil to let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

 I served these over a bed of spaghetti tossed in 1 teaspoon of olive oil, juice squeezed from half a lime, basil chiffonade (finely cut), and shaved parmesan.

Baked Meatballs

You Will Need:

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground lamb
7 oz fresh spinach, cooked and drained thoroughly
1/2 c finely grated Pecorino
1 whole egg
2 tsp dried Herbs de Provence
1 1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 c panko crumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, lamb, ground round, spinach, cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Use immediately or place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Place the remaining bread crumbs into a small bowl. Using a scale, weigh meatballs into 1.5-ounce portions and place on a sheet pan. Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds, roll in the bread crumbs and place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Source: "Great Balls of Meat" by Alton Brown


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