Mighty Fine Monday Meatballs

Meatballs so good you might want to make them every day of the week.

Shhhhhhh.

I made “Monday Meatballs” on a Sunday.

Hopefully, the Meatball Police don’t cite me for that infraction.

But honestly, these are so succulent, so ethereal, and with just the right kick of spiciness, that you’ll want to make them any day of the week.

The recipe is, of course, from “A16 Food + Wine” (Ten Speed Press) by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren. I say, of course, because the Monday-night special of meatballs is now legendary at this popular San Francisco restaurant specializing in the flavors of Campania. A16 has featured the meatballs for years. It once tried to curtail the Monday tradition, only to be bombarded with pleas from unhappy diners to bring it back. So, the restaurant did.

Although I’ve dined at A16, I’ve never managed to be there on a Monday night for the meatballs. But making them at home is a cinch, and so worth the time and effort to do so.

In the book, Chef Appleman explains that classic Italian-American meatballs tend to be denser in texture because of the preponderance of meat. But in the old country, meatballs were a way to stretch the larder. So, they were traditionally made with more bread in the mix than is used nowadays. Doing this gives them a fluffier texture that makes biting into them such an unforgettable pleasure.

Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Because just as with making meatloaf, the most effective way to thoroughly mix the ingredients together is with your bare hands. Once they are formed, they are roasted on baking sheets. Then, the meatballs get tossed into a roasting pan with the simplest of tomato sauces, and braise for an hour or so until they have absorbed some of the bubbling sweet-acidic sauce.

Chef Appleman notes that if you are grinding the pork shoulder and beef at home using a meat grinder, the pork fat, prosciutto, and bread chunks can be ground together with the pork and beef. If you are using a food processor, it’s better to grind everything separately.

The recipe does call for 2 ounces of pork fat. I used the fatty edges of bacon, just because I had a package of bacon in the fridge.

The meatballs can be made in advance; roast them, then freeze them. Before braising, defrost the balls completely, and then braise them in the oven as directed.

I enjoyed them spooned into a bowl, alongside good crusty wedges of bread and a green salad. I could happily imagine a few of these meatballs tucked inside a sandwich roll, too.

These are plump, juicy orbs you won’t be able to get enough of. It doesn’t matter what day of the week you make them. Just make them.

Monday Meatballs

(serves 6)

10 ounces boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes and ground in a meat grinder or finely chopped in a food processor

10 ounces beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes and ground in a meat grinder or finely chopped in a food processor

6 ounces day-old country bread, torn into chunks and ground in a meat grinder or finely chopped in a food processor

2 ounces pork fat, cut into 1-inch cubes and ground in a meat grinder or chilled in the freezer for 15 minutes and then finely chopped in a food processor

2 ounces prosciutto, cut into 1-inch cubes and ground in a meat grinder or chilled in the freezer for 15 minutes and then finely chopped in a food processor

1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon dried chile flakes

2/3 cup fresh ricotta, drained if necessary

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup whole milk

1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes with juices

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Block of grana for grating

Extra virgin olive oil for finishing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with olive oil.

In a large bowl, combine pork, beef, bread, pork fat, prosciutto, parsley, 1 tablespoon of the salt, oregano, fennel seeds, and chile flakes,and mix with your hands just until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together ricotta, eggs, and milk just enough to break up any large curds of ricotta. Add ricotta mixture to ground meat mixture and mix lightly with your hands just until incorporated. The mixture should feel wet and tacky. Pinch off a small nugget of the mixture, flatten it into a disk, and cook it in a small saute pan. Taste it and adjust seasoning of the mixture with salt if needed. Form mixture ito 1 1/2-inch balls each weighing about 2 ounces, and place on prepared baking sheets. You should have about 30 meatballs.

Bake, rotating sheets once from front to back, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until meatballs are browned. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Sprinkle tomatoes with remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and then pass tomatoes and their juices through a food mill fitted with the medium plate. Alternatively, put the entire can of tomatoes in a large bowl, don an apron, and then squeeze the tomatoes into small pieces with your hands.

Pack meatballs into 1 large roasting pan or 2 smaller roasting pans. Pour tomato sauce over meatballs, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and braise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until meatballs are tender and have absorbed some of the tomato sauce.

Pull pans out of the oven and uncover. Distribute basil leaves throughout the sauce.

For each serving, ladle meatballs with some of the sauce into a warmed bowl. Grate grana over the top, drizzle with olive oil to finish, and serve immediately.

From “A16 Food + Wine”

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Date: Monday, 23. March 2009 4:52
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Meat, Recipes (Savory), Restaurants

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29 comments

  1. 1

    Your meatballs look fabulous! I’m hungry just looking at them, and I’m still eating my breakfast. I love that you provided the background information from Chef Appleman – I love reading recipes, but I am especially fond of learning about the authentic preparation of foods and their history.

  2. 2

    What a unique meatball preparation! I love the idea of prosciutto and ricotta there – what an interesting combination! They sound really good!

  3. 3

    Great job with these. They look fantastic! I want to make the chicken version one of these days!

  4. 4

    I bet with the pork fat and prosciutto, they were nice and juicy. They look delicious!

  5. 5

    Oh my goodness, they look so nice and delicious, specially with the prosciutto and ricotta – very creative recipe!!
    I have got to try these :)

  6. 6

    Well, I’m reading this on a Monday so I guess it’s perfectly named Monday Meatballs! They look great, and I love the comforting thought of meatballs for dinner. But I have to say I’m lazy with the grinding. Do you think it would turn out the same if I just used regular store-bought ground meat, or do you think it really makes a difference grinding up yourself?

  7. 7

    I love meatballs, especially with spaghetti. I could eat that at least once a week!

  8. 8

    These look SO good. Was planning on having a big salad for dinner tonight…might have to turn that into a small salad and a big plate of Monday Meatballs!

  9. 9

    Your secret is safe with me. :-) The photo is also beautiful as always. I love how the red in the background really picks up the red in the sauce. I bet the ricotta is also delicious in the meatballs. I made a goat cheese stuffed lamb meat ball not too long ago and they were fantastic.

  10. 10

    Gotta make meatballs for sure…

  11. 11

    A16 is at the top of my “to-try” list – your meatballs look marvelous!

  12. 12

    Sara: You should definitely try A16. It’s sublime. And Chef Appleman was just announced today as a finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award; http://www.jbfawards.com/nominees.html#restaurant

    Single Guy Chef: It’s totally fine to buy the meat already ground at your local market. In fact, my favorite Zanotto’s grocery store in San Jose has the nicest butchers who happily ground my pork shoulder and beef for me, even after I warned them the weights were a little unusual (10 ounces each).

  13. 13

    Fabulous looking meatballs! Everyday can now be a Monday…no reason to complain now!

  14. 14

    Apparently trimming the gristle off the bacon was an example of your newly-refined “knife-cutting” skills from the seminar about 10 days ago! Or did you use the cleaver?

  15. 15

    I have a meat grinder at home which I have never used, so I think I am going to try your (and Appleman’s) advice about grinding it up with the bread and prosciutto together. And I will make it on a Monday night, per your suggestion! ;)

  16. 16

    You are making me so hungry! Thanks for the recipe.

  17. 17

    The weight ratio of meat to bread seems a bit high, 24 oz of meat to 6 oz of bread. Does this make it an Old World or a New World style meatball?

  18. 18

    Nate: I’d call them Old World meatballs because the texture is so much lighter than modern-day ones. Mostly, I’d just call them absolutely delicious. ;)

  19. 19

    Those look fabulous!!!!

  20. 20

    I make these quite often, but I sometimes use all Humboldt grassfed ground round and no pork shoulder, as well as 4 ounces of chopped pancetta from Trader Joe’s in place of the pork fat and prosciutto. And I usually need two cans of tomatoes cause I love the sauce. But each and every time, regardless of what meat combination I use, the resulting meatballs are unbelievably succulent, flavorful, and tender.

  21. 21

    Oooo these look great. I love the 50/50 mix of beef and pork and the addition of extra fat and prosciutto. I need to get the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid.

  22. 22

    It must be a sign…this is 3rd meatball recipe I’ve seen this morning! Fab photo – love the colors

  23. 23

    Robin: Good idea on the extra sauce. It’s amazing how divine this sauce is, given how utterly simple it is to make.

    Jaden: I take that as the ultimate compliment, because YOUR photos on your http://www.SteamyKitchen.com blog are always absolutely stunning. So, thank you for that!

  24. 24

    Anything that involves pork shoulder is good by me. These things look absolutely unbelievable. I can’t wait to try them. (Any reason to break out the meat grinder is good by me.)

  25. 25

    The moment this page opened, the vivid gorgeousness of these meatballs hit me between the eyes! I do not have a meat grinder at home but if I have to chop up the pork and beef with a butter knife, I am determined to make these myself. (However, I have noted, with some relief, your response to Single Guy Chef that it’s alright to get pre-ground meats.)

  26. 26

    yowza yes my eyes are blinded by the beauty of these meatballs… and to think that I was actually thinking of going out to buy a box of hamburger helper – for shame! But turning piles o’ meat, bacon fat and prosciutto into ethereal and succulent meatballs looks like a much better use of time.

  27. 27

    These look great, I look forward to trying them, love meatballs!

  28. 28

    We got a recipe from A16 to make meatballs at my sister-in-laws wedding – we made SO many meat balls – she had 200 guests, that I thought I’d never want to look at another meat ball again, but whenever I hit up A16 – its like a requirement that I order meatballs.

  29. 29

    […] Meatballs to Make: A16’s Famous Monday Meatballs Share and […]

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