Wednesday, May 29, 2013

agrodolce meatballs

Meatballs for my client. Just wait til you read about it. No tomato sauce in sight. #latergram #nofilter

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.

Mirepoix. Always a thrill. #latergram

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.

Agrodolce Meatballs
Adapted from Food & Wine, thank you, Grace Parisi

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 (that’s under an hour), 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 and pork is a no-no, 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 saute 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.

3/4 pound ground sirloin
3/4 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup dried currants or raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus additional
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup 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 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 to 1/2 cup and the meatballs are fully cooked, 8 to 12 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.

Makes 16 to 18 meatballs (Serves 4)

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12 Comments

  • 1

    Now you know a second person who loves cold fried chicken. In fact, when we went to the beach over the weekend, I insisted on buying fried chicken the day before so it would, in fact, be cold for lunch on the beach.

    I can’t wait to hear more about this private chef job. (also, I would LOVE having you as my private chef)

    May 29, 2013 5:59 pm
  • 2
    Adrienne said:

    1. I love cold fried chicken, too!
    2. I have that same pan, and I totally use it for meatballs.
    3. I am totally making these this weekend. Raisins and capers in the same meatball? I am sold.

    May 29, 2013 9:21 pm
  • 3

    Boy, those meatballs look good. My people would die for them!

    May 29, 2013 9:34 pm
  • 4

    Cold fried chicken even has a name in the South–at least in my family. We always called it picnic chicken! So good.

    May 30, 2013 8:22 am
  • 5

    I also love cold fried chicken!!!! Maybe it’s a Russian thing :)

    May 30, 2013 9:54 am
  • 6
    Brian said:

    This is so cool! Congrats on the gig! Sounds like you’re going to have a blast!

    May 30, 2013 10:02 am
  • 7
    Lisa said:

    Good to hear you’re busy, Olga! And doesn’t everyone love cold fried chicken? It’s one of my favorite breakfasts (along with cold pizza and cold pie).

    May 30, 2013 10:33 am
  • 8
    Bliss said:

    Private cooking sounds like an amazing gift for a new mom. And congrats on getting the gig, lucky new mom!

    Could you do a series on foods that keep well or improve with a few days in the fridge? I usually make a soup or stew on Sunday during the winter to eat all week for lunches or quick dinners, but I can never think of spring/summer meals that stay good for several days. I’m about to start a very, very year in school that will keep me from home until late most evenings, and I would really appreciate any suggestions so that I don’t end up eating cereal most nights!

    May 30, 2013 1:09 pm
  • 9
    olga said:

    Bliss – I can do an aggregation of links that might do the trick? I don’t know if in the next few months I can do a series on this (lots of work projects that will prevent me from this). My initial thought is for you to make things like grains and beans/chickpeas/hardboiled eggs/poached chicken, and then throw these things together for really hearty salads. I’ll think more on this.

    May 30, 2013 2:09 pm
  • 10
    Shana said:

    I have this Food and Wine recipe for “Agrodolce Meatballs” clipped and posted on my fridge to remind me to try it soon! Your re-posting of the recipe only ensures me I made a good choice in clipping the recipe, and I will light a fire under my *ss to cook it soon. Thanks for the suggestion! What did you serve them with?

    May 30, 2013 11:26 pm
  • 11
    olga said:

    Shana – I served them with a saffron orzo (also a F&W recipe I clipped) and a simple green salad that came with homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

    Everyone who loves cold fried chicken: I had no idea there are SO many of us, hooray!

    May 31, 2013 8:48 am
  • 12

    Wow, these sound amazing. I’ll eat anything billed as agrodolce, and these have just shot to the top of the list.

    May 31, 2013 7:04 pm

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