Greetings from the land of overbooked and overextended. Somehow, the end of May and the month of June have managed to shape themselves into something far more demanding than the sum of its parts. There’s work here, and work there, and work seemingly seeping out of every crevice I happen upon. This might sound like complaining, but it’s far from it – a few short months ago I was growing increasingly listless and anxious about not having enough to do, so having too much on my plate is arguably better. Still, some things must take priority and others less so, which is why instead of a picture of finished meatballs, you get an iPhone photo of the ones in the process of browning. To be honest, since I cooked a week’s worth of dinners that day, I just forgot to take a picture. Also, below is a random picture of mirepoix cooking. Aaaaaand you’re welcome for that one!
As I mentioned in my last post, I managed to pick up a private chef gig for the month of June. The upside is that my client eats almost everything – which makes cooking actually fun. But still, there’s quite a bit of work involved: from menu-planning, shopping for ingredients, prep, actual cooking, and to the dreaded clean-up. By the time I was done with this first week’s worth of meals, the kitchen looked like a small battle took place there, and I had to resort to Brillo pads and good old elbow grease to put the kitchen back together the way I found it. It took awhile.
Among many things I cooked for my client, including merguez burgers (but made with turkey), were these agrodolce meatballs. I can’t remember when I spied them in Food & Wine, but that recipe has been bookmarked for-like-ever, and for reasons I can only refer to as “poor time management” (see also, “culinary amnesia”), I made them once, filed them into the “make again” folder, and forgot all about them until I started to plan, in a spreadsheet of course*, the private chef menu. Since I was going to cook the meals and drop them off once a week, the dishes had to reheat successfully, and taste just as good, if not better, over the course of a few days — so fried chicken was out.** And because I was cooking for a new mom, I wanted the meals to be homey and comforting: I was thinking stews and soups and grain salads.
Agrodolce, in Italian, means “sweet and sour”, which these meatballs are, thanks to a mix of chicken stock and balsamic vinegar. If you were expecting to find traditional meatballs in tomato sauce, you won’t find any today. Instead, you get meatballs redolent with currants (or raisins in my case), pine nuts, briny capers, and punctuated by mint braised in a sweet-and-tart broth. After a quick mixing of the ingredients (it helps to use a lighter hand here for more delicate meatballs), toss the meatballs in some flour, add to a hot pan, brown quickly (Luisa, if you’re reading this, I loathe to brown meat also, but this is not so bad!), add the remaining ingredients, simmer, and eat. Or bring these to a potluck dinner. Or stick toothpicks in them and serve them at your next cocktail party. Or, better yet, make them for a new mom – she’ll be so grateful to have them.
*Cue the snickering from my husband who thinks I plan my entire life via a spreadsheet. He is right, of course: I live and die by those things.
**Except I am the only person I know of, who actually loves cold, day-old, fried chicken. Not as much as the freshly fried chicken, but still.
Adapted from Food & Wine
If, to you, meatballs mean a whole day affair, I have your quick-dinner answer here. These are ready, prep-and-all, in forty-five minutes, and much of the cooking time is hands-off, which means you can start cleaning up your kitchen from dinner prep (less work for you after dinner – bonus)! If you keep a kosher kitchen, swap in turkey or chicken, or even veal in place of pork. Just don’t make it all beef as it won’t taste as delicate. To make things even easier, get yourself a large sauté pan (the largest I have is this 6-quart All-Clad one I link to below) and you will be able to fry all your meatballs in one fell swoop.
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup dried currants or raisins
1/4 cup untoasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups (480 ml) chicken stock
1/4 cup (60 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Crusty bread, for serving
1. In a large bowl, combine the the ground beef and pork, eggs, bread crumbs, currants, pine nuts, capers, and mint. Season with salt and pepper and knead, gently, to combine. Roll the mixture into meatballs the size of golfballs and dust with flour.
2. In a large skillet (I like to use my 6-quart All-Clad saute pan for this), heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer (they will be snug) and cook over moderate heat, turning once or twice, until browned and nearly cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes. Tilt the skillet and spoon off as much fat as possible.
3. Add the broth, vinegar, and sugar and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the sauce is reduced by half and the meatballs are fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately accompanied by crusty bread for dipping in the sauce.
Makes about 24 meatballs (Serves 4 to 6)