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Lean Spicy Meatballs

March 9, 2011

by Elizabeth

Meatballs have never been my thing, I’ve always much preferred bolognese sauce for my spaghetti and I’ve never once ordered meatballs in a restaurant. Because really, they’re balls of meat, basically mini meatloaves (which is just flat out unappealing), and almost sure to have been charred and dried out by the time they’re cooked all the way through. Why would anyone ever choose meatballs over a luscious sauce that has been slowly simmered all day so that the meat and tomatoes have truly become one or a ragu that just melts in your mouth?

I’ve seen the light. Apparently, people choose meatballs because they’re hoping they turn out like these. Not to toot my own horn or anything, because once again, this is all Ina, people. She has figured out a recipe that capitalizes on the good things about meatballs. She uses three different types of meat and a strong cheese to maximize flavor. The breadcrumbs are soaked in milk so that they really add a bit of softness and texture to the meatballs. And they are baked, not fried, at a relatively high temperature to ensure even, quick cooking. I took the liberty of adding a small cube of mozzarella to the middle of each to make them a little less dense, and besides, adding more cheese is never a bad thing, right? Right.

A word of warning. Ina said this recipe serves 8. I got more than 40 meatballs out of it and I had reduced the recipe to 3/4 due to weird ground venison package sizes. 3 meatballs was more than enough per serving for husband and I…so you do the math. This can feed a lot of people, I’d say 16. Just make enough pasta and marinara sauce for how ever many you’re serving, and freeze the rest.

Lean Spicy Meatballs, adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy is That?

3 cups bread cubes, from french bread or boule, crust removed
2/3 cup whole milk
2 pounds lean meat, preferably venison or turkey
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup grated Pecorino or Asiago cheese
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 extra large eggs, beaten
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 – 3/4 cup Marinara sauce and 2 ounces multigrain spaghetti per person for serving

Preheat the oven to 400˙. Process bread cubes in food processor until you have medium sized crumbs. Transfer to a bowl, and cover with milk. Let soak for at least 5 minutes.

In a very large bowl, combine venison, sausage, prosciutto, cheese, bread crumb mixture, and spices with your hands. Be careful not to overwork it. Add the oil and egg and stir lightly with a fork until just combined. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using your hands, roll the meat mixture into balls approximately 2 inches in diameter. Put a cube of mozzarella in the middle of each one, and seal the meat around it. Transfer to baking sheets and brush the tops of the meatballs with olive oil. Bake for 35-40 minutes, but be careful – you don’t want them overcooked.

When ready to serve, simmer the marinara sauce in a saucepan and add the meatballs. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Serve with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Since this recipe makes a TON of meatballs, I recommend flash freezing at least half of the recipe. To do so, make the meatballs and place on baking sheets as above, but instead of baking, stick them in the freezer for about an hour. Once they’re frozen, transfer to plastic storage bags, they won’t stick together and will keep for months. You can pull out just how many you need for one meal. Either let them defrost before baking, or add 10 minutes to cooking time.

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