Monday, November 11, 2013

UnRecipe: The Meatball Strikes Back!

I'm back! I'm alive! And I'm definitely looking to ease back into cooking after a fun, but busy vacation. Be patient, I promise to share my adventure soon enough, but until then, I need to cook up something quick, simple and delicious. It's certainly not news that I'm an avid fan of the Meatball Craze that's been hitting the Food Trend World. They're so simple, you can make them with any ground meat combination you like, or even no meat at all, you can do vegetarian versions like my favorite chickpea/quinoa combo that are plenty tasty. We recently got our share of a cow -- we got a quarter of the delicious beast -- and so we've got a hefty supply of hamburger to last us the winter and then some. Meatballs of all shapes, sizes and ingredient combinations - ONWARD!

Meatball craze in full effect, but don't forget a crucial ingredient... - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Oddly enough, this post isn't so much about the meatballs themselves, but what I think is the most crucial component of a good meatball: aromatics and herbs. We have a meat grinder, which is a handier kitchen tool than you'd think -- you can render sinewy, tough cuts of pork or beef into fresh-ground, tender morsels that can be formed into hamburger patties, or in this case, little spheres of meatball goodness. While some meatball purists may feel like the little meaty spheres should be as unfussed-with as possible, I prefer to infuse as much flavor into these bite-sized gems as possible.

The true flavor stars of the Meatball Show - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Which leads to the Great Outdoors, aka, the Garden of Meatball Delights. Our summer garden days are over, but you may be lucky enough to have some herbs that persist through the fall. Rosemary and oregano are fairly hearty plants, rosemary especially. You want to feel like you're getting the most out of an herb garden, and trimming a handful of these herbs does wonders for ground meat. They're definitely herbs that require a light hand -- too much rosemary makes a dish taste almost soapy, and an overdose of oregano can be bitter and overpowering. But there's no reason not to invite these flavors to dinner.

I've become a big fan of cornmeal for whipping up a fast batch of polenta. I keep it fairly simple, with salted water, milk, melted butter and whisking the cornmeal in as best as I can, to avoid lumps. As the rawness of the cornmeal cooks out and they absorb the cooking liquid, I start to build flavor with finely chopped rosemary and oregano, and even a nice little scoop of truffle butter. Even if you don't have the fancy butter, the fresh herbs perfume the polenta nicely, which goes well with the meatballs marinated in the herbs.

Building flavor, every step of the way - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The meatballs get a nice boost of flavor from the herbs, along with some roasted garlic, salt and pepper. Breadcrumbs and an egg helps bind the mixture, and a splash of milk keeps it moist. The whole mixture sits in the refrigerator for a few hours -- mixing the seasoned ground meat in the morning is a good way to have it ready for dinnertime. For this Italian-inspired meatball and polenta meal, I sear the meatballs in an oiled pan, just to give them a crust, they're removed and set aside, and the pan is deglazed with canned tomatoes and some white wine, to start making an herbed marinara sauce sauce. A little more of the finely minced rosemary and oregano are added to the sauce as well, and as the tomatoes start to break down, the meatballs are added back in and the stove temperature is dropped to a calm simmer, to cook everything through. This gives you just enough time to whip up a batch of herbed polenta.

Having your garden herbs used throughout all parts of the meal really puts their flavor in the spotlight, even moreso than the dried stuff. I'm not disparaging dried herbs -- we can't always have a fresh garden supply year-round, but having the flavor of fresh herbs in a meal is a reminder of why it's so delicious to have them whenever you can. And of course, the most important lesson to remember, one that may even trump the flavor of fresh herbs, is the power of grated cheese. Whether it's finely grated or sliced into thin shavings, it pretty much makes the dish the equivalent feast for the eyes as herbs do for the tastebuds. Never forget to feed all the senses. Especially when you're a goofy food blogger. And take that photo as fast as possible so you can enjoy your dinner while it's still hot!

Don't forget the cheese and definitely don't forget to enjoy dinner - Photos by Wasabi Prime

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)