Recently, someone asked me why I love cooking and I realized that it’s the concept of sharing that made me fall in love with food in the first place. Throughout traveling, I have noticed that few countries have this American habit of ordering a dish and hording it all to their greedy little selves. They order small plates or a few entrees to share from the middle of the table. They also take a lot longer, talk a lot more, eat slower and enjoy their downtime and the good things in life a little bit more. This is my theory on why Europe is so much thinner than we are – even though they eat excessive amounts of rich cheese and drink wine through the day starting at lunch. Eating becomes less of a chore and more of a social event; you eat less and enjoy it more. Americans fill themselves as much as possible as quick as possible and if a dinner takes more than an hour, its a pain the ass (pardon my French).
In any case, I’ve always desired my food to be a celebration of all the good things that we overlook and take for granted, not solely delicious taste explosions. And so here it is: a dish designed to do just that, a dish meant to be shared, inspired by these gorgeous bad boys from Argentina – the land of long meals and passionate people:
If you didn’t notice how beautiful they are:
Mini Sweet Peppers with Mexican Meatballs
10 small sweet peppers
½t. each: fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
¾ lb lean pork (you’re gonna have some left over)
juice of 1 lime
1 ½ t. cilantro, finely chopped
1 ½ t. parsley, finely chopped
¼ jalapeno, very finely diced
2t white onion, very finely diced
½ t. each: cayenne, cumin, chili con carne, fine sea salt, fresh ground black pepper
2T bread crumbs
5-6T butter (or earth balance)
1C. shredded mozzarella
1. Keeping the stems in tact, slice peppers clean through the stems and down the center; remove the seeds and all white veins, toss with the olive oil and ½t of salt and pepper and bake at 450 until just barely browned (about 10 minutes). Keep a close eye on them because these small peppers cook a lot faster.
2. By hand, mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs and roll into small dime sized balls (they’ll be the cutest little meatballs you ever did see).
3. In a medium sized saute pan, heat 2-3T of butter on high.
4. Once melted, add meatballs and turn slowly to brown on each side. While browning, continuously add small amounts of butter to keep them from burning or drying out. Cook until browned but just a teeny bit undercooked in the center – (how do you tell? Lightly push on the tip of your nose. That’s what well done meat feels like if you poke it. Now, pinch the meaty part between your thumb and your forefinger. That’s medium. Last but not least, pinch the dinky skinny skin just above the meaty part between your thumb and forefinger. That’s rare.) You want the balls to be super rare (hah).
5. Now that the meatballs and peppers are ready, put a T or so of the grated cheese in each pepper half, then top with as many meatballs fit (probably 2-3), then bake at 325 until the cheese melts.
6. Plate and eat!
After the winning meatballs and guacamole incident, I’ve begun to look at meatballs in an entirely different way (my weekly Saturday trip to Lucca doesn’t hurt, either…). They don’t have to be with noodles; nor to do they have to be with tomato sauce. They make great crostini toppers and appetizers as well as a slightly less traditional pal to pasta. I mean really – think of all the options: a meat ball is basically a burger in a ball, so you could combine just about any concoction and it will probably be tasty, right? Well, probably wrong, but you get the idea.
Before the recipes, here’re a couple notes:
For all of these recipes, except for the goat cheese, the cheese is a bit salty so you should be sure to go easy when salting the meat.
If you plan on mixing and then storing the meat for a bit, make sure that the meat is completely covered with plastic wrap that is directly on the meat. Don’t cover a bowl that has the meat in it, make sure the cover is touching the meat and keeping air out of it. The exposure to air will oxidize the meat and turn it brown. (This is how to know what meat NOT to buy in the store: you want good bright red meat.
I strongly recommend butter basting these.
And so, without further ado, here are three eclectic meatball ideas: two appetizers and one main.
The instructions/process for all is the same:
Very thoroughly mix all ingredients by hand or with a fork.
Roll into medium sized balls.
Add olive oil and butter to a skillet and heat on medium heat until butter is melted but not browned.
Add meatballs, one by one and turn until all sides are browned, adding bits of butter when it starts to brown, and basting as they brown.
Prosciutto and Reggiano Meatballs
Blue Cheese Meatballs
Serving these with a small amount of blue on baguette will help bring out the mild blue cheese flavor in the meatballs. It depends on how much you like blue cheese though. Use the meat drippings to pour over the baguette.
1 ½ lb ground meat, part beef and part turkey
1 cup blue cheese (best are the milder, less salty and not too creamy ones because like the goat cheese, when it melts, it will have trouble holding together.)
2 egg whites
3t bread crumbs
Salt (easy) and fresh ground pepper
Rosemary and Goat Cheese Meatball Sliders
The creaminess of the goat cheese when it melts makes it hard for it to completely stick together, so this works really well as an appetizer slider on baguette.
1 ½ lb ground meat, part beef and part turkey
1/3 cup fresh goat cheese
3t fresh rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
1t finely minced garlic
1 french baguette, sliced into ½ inch rounds, buttered and toasted
Where can I get some ground duck?
I had a few conflicting feelings about mixing meatballs with guacamole. First of all – I’m a biiiiiig guacamole fan, so for me, anything with guacamole will be a-ok at worst. But on the other hand, it seemed like meatballs and guacamole was a dish that wasn’t going to be easy to eat – meatballs aren’t really finger-foods and guacamole is a dip that requires some digital dexterity. In addition, while I am in full favor of spicing up traditional ground meat products, I feel pretty standard about meatballs – they go with tomato sauce, they go either in the midst of long slender noodles or between two pieces of submarine sandwich bread, and that’s how it’s done. Granted, they are made of the same base product as a burger patty, which can be done in so many varieties of meat with so many flavors, there’s something different about a circular roll of ground beef and a round, flat patty between two pieces of bread. Maybe it’s the bread, maybe it’s the shape. In any case, meatballs, in my mind, just don’t lend themselves the same manipulation that other ground meat products do.
In the end, though, I wanted guacamole and he wanted meatballs and so it had to be. I tried my own adaptation for “Spiced Meatballs with Guacamole” from Tamasin Day Lewis’s “Good Tempered Food: Food to Love, Leave and Linger Over”.
My initial concerns ended up both justified and denied: It’s true that meatballs are a little awkward to eat with guacamole. The roundness is not adequate for a finger food, and cutting and dipping a meatball is just wierd. A meatball, however, does not deserve to be repressed to living in a sandwich or marinara sauce, or with some bare-bones oregano and parsely and some bread crumbs. The meatball loves some new flavor!
Try this recipe these ways. too:
· Sausages: roll the meat into sausage-link shapes and dip them like French fries into the guacamole. a great casual appetizer
· Mexican Meatball Sanwiches: like a regular meatball sandwich, but use guacamole instead of marinara, and melt some mozzarella cheese!
· Tacos: Use as ground meat for tacos, plop on the guacamole and add some extra onions and cotija cheese.
· Nachos: Cook ground meat, pile on chips, melt mozzarella cheese, add guacamole, and cotija cheese.
Guacamole for Meatballs
· 3 Haas Avocados
· Juice of 2 Limes
· Juice of one lemon wedge
· 1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced with only a few seeds
· ½ white onion, finely diced
· Handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
· 2t cumin
· ½ tSea salt
· Pinch of ground black pepper
· Pinch of red chili flakes
1. Cut avocados in half, pit and scoop out into a bowl
2. Add limes, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper and chili flakes
3. Mix with a fork until desired consistency – whether you prefer chunky or smooth guacamole.
4. Squeeze lemon wedge over the top to keep from browning (the lime in it will help, but lemon works the best)
5. Refrigerate and let sit for an hour.
*The jalapenos and cilantro/parsley combination in this recipe are the star flavors. Really make sure to coarsely chop the herbs, so that they are more than just an accent when biting in. Their freshness will also complement and counter the spice of the jalapenos.
· 1 ½ lbs lean beef
· ¾ lb ground turkey breast
· 1 egg
· ¼ C parsley and cilantro combined, both coarsely chopped
· ½ jalapeno, with seeds, finely diced
· 1t cumin
· 1t cayenne
· 1/8 c bread crumbs
· Pinch red chili flakes
· 2t salt
· 1t ground black pepper
· 1t celery salt
· 1t chili powder
1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except egg and use your hands to mix it up.
2. When well combined, add egg and re-mix
3. Make a very mini-patty to prepare and taste-test.
4. If to your liking, wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap to prevent oxidation and refridgerate until ready to use.
5. When ready to cook:
For meatballs: roll in balls, and sauté in warmed butter, turning when browned on one side until well browned on the outside and just very barely browned (still a tiny bit pink) inside pink. Serve hot with room temperature guacamole on the size.
For sausage-link-like meatballs: roll into finger-length links, cook the same as meatballs and serve with a dipping bowl of cool guacamole.
For tacos and nachos: it’s okay that it has the egg in it. Just sauté it up in a shallow, non-stick pan coated with butter and use a spatula to continue breaking it up until browned. For tacos, toss a tortilla in the same pan til warm and crispy, pile on the meat, a spoonful of guacamole, a pinch of minced white onion, bit of cotija cheese and some coarsely chopped cilantro. For nachos, warm chips, onions and cheese in the oven in the oven, and cover with cooked meat, guacamole and jalapenos.
Double and triple mmmmmm……