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Mighty Fine Monday Meatballs


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”