Monday, June 21, 2010

Italian Meatballs and Gravy

Lemons to lemonade is obvious, but from oregano to meatballs? Culinary inspiration can stem from any and every little thing- it could be a sight, sound, smell, touch, thought, or (obviously) taste, it could be the weather or mood you're in. It could be a Red Lobster commercial, as nasty as that shit is, and then without even knowing it I'm at my fishmonger staring at the lobster tank, looking for the feistiest Mr. Pinchy in there. It might hit from walking past the breakfast joint on the corner, the aroma of bacon or flapjacks on the griddle might lead to some blueberry pancakes or a jalapeno-cheddar-bacon cornbread at home. Sometimes you are baited to create something simple, other times it might take all day. It could be cheap and already in the pantry, it might be expensive and demand a special cut from the butcher.

My inspiration this time was the half-dozen sprigs of oregano from the first share of our CSA. It was a joyous Sunday morning to open that box and pull out heads of red and green lettuce, green garlic, bok choi, purple scallions, asparagus, and honey. That's fresh and local, organic honey, just like everything else off the farm. A time to celebrate foodie happiness with a short version of Sunday gravy, some meaty balls, and a bottle of red table wine. Or two.

You can use any combination of ground meat here- my standard meatloaf/meatball is equal parts ground chuck, ground veal, ground pork. Today it's mild Italian sausage and ground turkey.

This is another perfect recipe for keeping a few portions in the freezer, always ready to be defrosted and then piled on some fresh pasta or packed into a sub roll with some peppers and onions. Who doesn't like a meatball sammich?

Italian Meatballs and Gravy
6-8 servings

For the balls-
1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb. mild Italian sausage
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 TB fresh oregano or 1/2 ts dried
1/2 TB fresh rosemary or 1/2 ts dried
1/2 TB fresh thyme or 1/2 ts dried
3 TB fresh bread crumbs
3 TB milk
1 large egg, light whisk

For the gravy-
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 TB tomato paste
(2) 28 oz canned whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 ts dried oregano
1/2 ts dried thyme
1/4 ts chili flake
4 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Make sure your meat is nice and cold, rolling warm meatballs sucks. Remove the casings from the sausage if in link form, if you can't find an lb of ground. If you're using fresh bread pieces, whatever type bread it might be, give it a few pulses in the food pro, until you got little pieces but not to a powder. The pulse button = control. Soak in the milk while combining the other ingredients, or about 5 minutes. You could sub canned bread crumbs if that's all ya got, if so skip the milk bath.

For the sauce-
Coat a large sauce pan with a TB or so of EVOO. Over medium-high heat, saute first the onion for about 4-6 minutes, until soft, then add the garlic and tomato paste. Stir the paste into everything and let caramelize for a minute, then add the tomatoes. Being careful not to touch the hot bottom of the pan, reach in and crush the tomatoes by hand, tearing into chunks. Add the Italian seasonings of your preference, then stir to combine and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with S&P.

For the balls-
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients sans oil and gently fold until well mixed. You can make them whatever size you prefer, just adjust the browning time. I like a large spoon-sized ball, you obviously do want them to be uniform in size. Brown in a large skillet over medium-high heat coated with oil, turning often to ensure even browning. Do not crowd the skillet!! You gotta have room to get in there and turn them on their side, stand up on edge and roll, to get all sides nice and fully browning. Work in batches and toss em in the sauce as you go.

That's some fancy bread right there. No baguettes in the house, so sandwich bread brushed with EVOO and rubbed with a split garlic clove is a solid substitute. Gotsta have some bread with pasta, we don't count no carbs here. Where will the next inspiration come from?

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