Saturday, July 5, 2014

Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta

After the clever girl's dance recital, we went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants to celebrate/relax.   The recital was tons of fun for the clever girl, and lots of work for me!  She had 2 costume changes which is a lot of running back and forth to the back-stage area, trying not to break my neck in the dark.  But why we (i.e. I) really needed to relax is from the make-up situation.  Yes, for the dance recital, the clever girl has (HAS would be my word, GETS would be hers) to wear makeup.  And we aren't just saying a tad bit, it's, well, a lot, by my standards.  Powder, blush, eye shadow, mascara, and the dreaded/beloved (again, a perspective thing) "Cherries in the Snow" lipstick.  This is by the request of the dance studio, of course.  If you aren't part of this particular dance studio, you probably are not familiar with Cherries in the Snow.  Because, honestly, I can't for the life of me figure out what grown woman would wear this color lipstick.  It is a BRIGHT red/fuschia color.  And when you apply it to your little 6yr old girl, the look is shocking.  Kind of a "how to make your child look like a... " well, let's not go there, but I think you probably get the drift.  The first time we put it on the clever girl, she even said that it needed to be toned down a bit.  Okay?  Anyway, after the hair is done (no fly-aways!!) and the make-up is applied, my innocent little girl looked about 16 years old, and my future flashed in front of my eyes.  It was scary!  As you can see, I am still a bit traumatized by the situation. 

Are you wondering what this has to do with meatballs?  I'll tell you, I promise.  We went to the yummy Italian place for dinner, where the clever boy absolutely went to town on these giant meatballs that we ordered.  He LOVED them.  A-HA!  I thought.  I must make giant meatballs!  I decided to serve them with creamy polenta because, well, it's a really great idea and because the clever boy loves polenta as well.  Win-win dinner plan!

After lots of research into the best Italian Meatball recipe, I settled on the recipe below.  Though many swear by using beef, pork and veal in meatballs, I have a THING about veal so I needed a 2-meat meatball.  These were perfect!  Don't be alarmed by the long list of ingredients - they are easy to find and the recipe is pretty easy and fast to put together!

Italian Meatballs
adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes about 16 meatballs

1 pound ground beef (at least 16% fat)
1 pound ground pork
2/3 cup milk (whole or 2%)
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 eggs
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 TB chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
about 1 cup flour, for dusting
1/3 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups (24 oz.) tomato sauce (your own or use following recipe)

Tomato Sauce
2 TB olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 TB chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1 28 -oz. can crushed or whole tomatoes, including the juice (I recommend using San Marzano tomatoes if you can find them)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 TB chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoon tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

If you are using the above recipe for tomato sauce, start with that.  The sauce will simmer while you prepare the meatballs.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and parsley (I chopped them all together in the food processor).  Stir to coat with the oil, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pan.  Cook until the vegetables are soft and coked through, about15-20 minutes.  Remove the cover, add the garlic, and increase the heat to medium-high.  Cook the garlic for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.  If you are using whole canned tomatoes, break them up with your fingers as you add them, otherwise just dump in the can of crushed tomatoes.  Add the tomato paste and basil and season with salt and pepper.   Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low, and allow to cook uncovered until thick 15-30 minutes.  Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor, or push through a food mill, and pour it back into the large skillet.

For the meatballs:  Heat the milk in a small saucepan until steamy.  Turn off the heat, tear the bread into little pieces, and soak it in the milk until the bread partially dissolves.  Mash the bread until it is paste-like.  Pour it onto a plate to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the meats, cheeses, eggs, salt, herbs, pepper, garlic and the bread-mixture (all of the ingredients ABOVE the flour for dusting).  Mix well with your hands until it barely combines.  Don't overwork the mixture, this will make for tough meatballs!  It's ok to have some clear bits of bread or meat in the mix - better than than tough meatballs.

Pour the flour into a pie pan or other flat dish.  Wet your hands and form meatballs.  A traditional size is 2-3 inches.  Mine were closer to 3+.  Once the meatball is rolled in your hands, roll it in flour.   Set each floured meatball on a baking sheet as you finish the other meatballs.

When all of the meatballs are ready, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown the meatballs on at least 2 sides.  They will continue cooking in the sauce, so don't worry about getting them all the way done.

Arrange the browned meatballs in the sauce, turning each one over so it is coated.  Cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with the sauce and creamy polenta!
Printable Recipe

Creamy Polenta
adapted from The Kitchn
Makes about 4 cups

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
1 cup cheese (optional)
1-3 TB butter (optional)

Bring the water to a boil and add the salt.  Pour the polenta into the boiling water while whisking constantly.  Turn the heat down to low and continue to whisk as the polenta thickens.  Cover the pan and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring vigorously every 10 minutes or so.  Make sure you scrape down the sides and around the corners of the pan.  If you are using cheese and butter, add this after the polenta is at the consistency that you prefer.  Serve immediately, or cover and let sit for up to 15 minutes before serving. 
Printable Recipe
Yum.  Happy baby, happy family!  This is great comfort food!  The meatballs are nice and soft in the middle, but a bit of a crisp on the outside.  The tomato sauce is really flavorful and quite good.  Serve it all on a bed of creamy cheesy polenta and it is happiness on a plate!  This is a wonderful way to recover from any particular stressful situation.  Add a glass of red wine (or not if you prefer) and you have taken a giant step in the direction of AHHHHH.  I wish for you to have more time in bliss, and to never have to experience the Cherries in the Snow!


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