This is a very important post, dear readers. One that’s taken me many hours to put together, because I cannot implore you enough that whatever it is you’re doing right now – you need to stop and rush to your kitchens to make these. I know – you’re thinking, meatballs, big deal, what’s the rush. But because I’m what you’d call, a meatballs skeptic, this is doubly important. I wouldn’t just sigh over any meatballs, right? They would have to be really, truly magnificent. And they are.
These are the meatballs I’ve dreamed about for over a year. A year, people – do you know how long that is in food obsession terms? That’s twelve long months of fantasizing about these orbs made seemingly out of meat clouds and so delicious and light, they practically melt in your mouth. You barely even have to chew them. And until very recently, they weren’t a staple in my kitchen. But that’s all changed now.
About a year ago, a good friend of mine took me to a little wine bar in the East Village called Terroir, run by the same lovely folks behind a thoughtfully run restaurant “Hearth” where Marco Canora, the chef behind this recipe, makes his amazing dishes. She had mentioned, on our way there, that aside from an excellent wine list, there are some worthwhile nibbles we should order, namely, the veal ricotta meatballs, which we promptly ordered upon arrival and that order changed everything I knew about the dish. These weren’t regular meatballs of my past: heavy and dense and bland; instead they were light, delicate and perfectly seasoned. I tasted a bite of Parmiggiano, a gentle hint of ricotta, a tang of tomato sauce. Instantly smitten, I knew, at that exact moment, that these were the meatballs I’ve been searching for (if one does indeed go on a search for the perfect meatball, which you know I would, because that’s the kind of girl I am).
Since then, I’ve sent dozen of my friends to the bar, always instructing them to order the meatballs and have tried to recreate the magic at home. Until two nights ago, I’ve been using the Mario Batali recipe, but after Deb alerted me to Marco Canora’s recipe, I switched over. The ingredient list and proportions are very similar, if not identical. But a few additional steps, and helpful hints below, I think, make this recipe more useful. These meatballs are a process and take over a day to make, which, I know, is a bit belabored for something as rustic as a meatball. However, asking your butcher to triple-grind your meat (which is recommended below) ensures a delicate, light texture. Starting on your ricotta cheese the night before, is a necessary step because store bought ricotta just won’t cut it, and you see in the previous recipe just how easy it is to make ricotta at home. Moreover, I read somewhere, in relation to this recipe that you need to have your ricotta cheese need to be the texture/density of tofu (super helpful, right?), really helps you in determining how much draining of ricotta you have to do. And there’s also chilling the meatballs before frying them. I’m not sure what chilling your meatballs before frying does, but I dutifully followed directions and can tell you, it’s worth the trouble because the results are that good.
And while normally meatballs are an accessory to spaghetti, I urge you to resist having them play second fiddle. These are in their own category of excellence and deserve to be first violin at your dinner with a solo performance. Serve them alongside a simple salad, as it’ll only highlight the rustic simplicity of the dish. Spaghetti and meatballs, just might become a thing of the past.
Veal and Ricotta Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Recipe by Marco Canora via New York Times
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound ground veal (triple ground by butcher or at home), chilled
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon salt, or as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, as needed
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup flour, or as needed
4 cups mild tomato sauce
1. Wrap ricotta in cheesecloth a day before serving and place in a sieve set over a bowl. Weight cheese, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Cheese should then have consistency of tofu.)
2. The next day, combine all ingredients except oil, flour and sauce in a bowl and mix with hands until completely smooth, pale and homogenized, about 4 minutes. Test seasoning by frying a bit in hot oil. It should taste assertively salty (braising in sauce tames seasoning); adjust salt if needed. Cover and chill before shaping into meatballs.
3. Dust a baking sheet and your hands with flour. Keep remaining flour nearby in bowl. Gently form meat into nine balls. Place on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.
4. Place about 1 1/2 inches oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry meatballs, moving them as little as possible. When bottoms are golden brown, after about 2 minutes, gently turn them. Fry until uniformly brown on all sides. Meanwhile, heat sauce in pot over medium-low heat and when meatballs are done, remove from oil with slotted spoon and add to sauce.
5. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes; they can remain in the sauce for hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Can be refrigerated overnight, and gently reheated. Serve meatballs in sauce alone, or over pasta, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano passed separately.
Yield: 4 servings.