At some point when I had just graduated college I started making meatballs every Christmas Eve. Actually, I can remember the exact reason: Gourmet magazine (where I worked at the time) had just come out with an Italian American edition featuring Mario Batali’s recipe for meatballs. Rather lengthy and involving soaking day old torn bread in milk, it wasn’t a quick or easy recipe but the meatballs it produced were good. Really good.
Prior to that point we had a family tradition of take out Chinese on Christmas Eve. Growing up I thought it was pretty cool, I suppose because it was different from what many of my friends were having for dinner. But when I saw these meatballs calling out to me from the pages of Gourmet, I knew I had to make them, and they seemed a little too special for everyday. My love of meatballs was born.
Flash forward a few years to a little place in the East Village called The Meatball Shop. Even with my new found respect for meatballs (they’re hard to make, or at least a little tedious), I’d rarely ordered them at a restaurant. I don’t know if they weren’t cool back then or if I just seldom visited proper red sauce joints, but you pretty much have to order meatballs at a place called The Meatball Shop.
The Meatball Shop’s menu centers around a variety of meatballs, from classic beef to spicy and thai, served alone, over pasta, as a sandwich or over greens. I’ve been wanting to replicate their meatballs for a while but I’ve been putting it off, knowing what I know about the meatball process. Typically it involves cooking some of the ingredients first, then cooling them, not to mention lots of squishy messy fingers in cold raw meat. Then there’s the cooking – they really are best when browned first and this always involves more batches and grease splatters than expected.
So I was researching recipes and found this one published by Bon Appetit from the guys at The Meatball Shop themselves. And it’s way easier than the traditional method I’m used to. There’s no browning and no cooking meatball ingredients before forming them. I had to check a few times that their secret ingredient of mortadella was in fact what I thought it was – like, from the deli counter? – and yes, it’s true. The mortadella adds flavor and texture, which is a little different (yes, there are distinct pieces of mortadella in the meatballs), but the time saved and resulting taste (soo good!), more than make up for the, er, unique texture.
Adapted from The Meatball Shop's [recipe|http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/beef-mortadella-meatballs-tomato-sauce" target="_blank] published by Bon Appetit
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground beef (chuck)
- 1/3 pound mortadella, cut into 1/4" pieces*
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- Parmesan cheese
- Heat oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat.
- Saute onion, carrot, and celery until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add tomato paste, stirring to combine, and cook 3-4 minutes.
- Add crushed tomato, salt, and pepper, simmer while making meatballs.
- In a large bowl, combine beef, mortadella, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, and oregano. You can try spoons, spatulas, etc, but I've always found my hands are the best mixing tool for meatballs!
- Mix until just combined (don't over mix or you'll risk tough meatballs!).
- Form golf-ball size meatballs and add to sauce.*
- Simmer sauce and meatballs until meatballs are cooked through, about 45 minutes.
- Serve alone or over pasta or greens like they do at The Meatball Shop, with plenty of grated Parmesan on top.
*Keep the mortadella pieces small so they don't appear too chunky in the finished meatballs - the mortadella will retain its shape. You could grind it up to avoid any difference in texture, but at that point you might as well use ground pork and you'd miss out on the awesome flavor the mortadella adds.
*Make meatballs with cold meat (obviously for sanitary reasons) - the meatballs will keep their shape better. If the meat is getting warm, pop the bowl in the refrigerator to chill the meat again.