Friday, March 4, 2011

Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs

I doubt the title surprises you at this point. While I certainly do have a lot of love for things full of cheese or meat, or covered in cheese or meat, those aren't the only things I'm capable of doing ... and I hope that's clear. My goal, if I have one, is just to get you to think outside of the box. Be creative. Play with your food.

Keeping that in mind, we'll be making meatballs today!
These are special meatballs to me. My grandmother, who passed away last year, showed me how to make these after I had moved to New Orleans, and I've never really changed the way I make them. (I'll be making the first post in a few days for a section I'd like to call "The Basics", and you'll hear more about my grandmother there.) It's a great little recipe and extremely versatile. I've used the same meat mixture for not only meatballs but burgers and meatloaves. We'll talk about variations on this, but it's too flexible a recipe to not put to use.

The mixture for these meatballs is pretty straightforward. For the meat, use what you have available unless you have a need to make something specific. I had some ground beef leftover from the G√Ęteau de Boeuf Royale and a half of pork shoulder ("Boston butt") in the fridge. Since I like my meatballs a bit on the lean side, I won't be adding in the extra fat from the pork shoulder. (I will, however, save it, since having extra pork fat handy is great for sausage making.)

I like to use one egg per pound of meat, but we use duck eggs from our back yard and they tend to be a bit bigger and more substantial than farmed chicken eggs. Try one egg, and if it seems too dry you can always add another. Together with the breadcrumbs the eggs help the meatball to keep shape. If you've ever had a meatball fall apart on you, they probably left this out. Since I like to start my meatballs either on the stove or in the oven and let them finish in the sauce, they need to be able to hold together.

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1-2 egg(s)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup grated cheese (not pictured above)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • herbs/spices/salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon of salt
    • 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped Italian parsley

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly, preferably with your hands. I use my hands a lot when making food. It's important to be able to feel what you're doing. Cooking relies on more than just your sense of smell or taste. Touch your food. Listen to your food. Look at your food.

The consistency you're going for here is firm, but not hard, and certainly not slimy. If it's too slimy you may not have incorporated the egg very well. Too firm and that egg may not have been enough for the meat. You can add a splash of milk if it's too firm, or some more breadcrumbs if it's too thin or slimy. If you have the time, make a small patty and cook it in a pan over medium heat. Adjust your seasoning, if necessary.

If you want just plain old meatballs, skip ahead to the cooking. We're not going for plain, we're going for interesting. (And my apologies to my grandmother for adding something to an already perfect recipe.) Dice up some mozzarella into cubes. Fresh mozzarella might be more difficult to use here, and you could certainly use any cheese you like. I wanted to use a cheese that wouldn't melt too quickly. As the meatball cooks, the fat is rendered out and the meat shrinks slightly. If the cheese is too melted by that point, it'll start to force its way out of the meatball. A harder cheese, like a provolone, would hold up well here as well.

Form the meatball around the cheese. Make sure you seal it well. Roll it around gently between your hands and make sure there's no obvious "fissures" in the meat.

You have two methods of cooking these meatballs. My grandmother loved to cook them in a frying pan with canola oil. You can also do this in the oven. If you're going for flavor, go ahead and fry them. If you're going for pseudo-healthy then bake them.

To bake, line a cookie sheet or baking dish with tin foil which makes for infinitely easier clean up. Make and arrange the meatballs, leaving some space between, and bake at 500 degrees. If you're going to finish the meatballs in the sauce, you'll only need to cook them long enough to brown them all around, maybe around 10 minutes. After 5 minutes you should grab some tongs and turn them a bit to make sure all sides are browned. If you're going to finish them completely in the oven, drop the temperature to 350 after 10 minutes and keep an eye on them, particularly if you have cheese inside.

For frying, heat some oil in a pan (I used some rendered lamb fat I had leftover) and get it nice and hot. A good way to check is to wet your finger with water and shake off a few drops off into the oil. If it dances and sizzles, you're good to go. Place a few meat balls in (no more than four at a time) and constantly turn them. If they sit on one side too long I can guarantee you they'll split. Pieces of onion may fall off. Scoop these out since they'll eventually blacken and add an off flavor to the oil.

Use a slotted spoon to remove and place into your sauce to finish up, about 15 minutes or so. It's not the most appetizing picture in the world (we really need to figure out a way to light the kitchen better) but here's half of a meatball, showing the melted cheese.

This, like all recipes, should just be a starting point for you to formulate your own recipe. If you prefer a "just meat" texture you can replace the garlic with garlic powder and the onion with onion powder. Not a fan of pork? Don't use it. And if something goes horribly wrong, don't panic! If your meatballs start to fall apart, then consider making your "sauce and meatballs" into "meat sauce".

There's a story I love about noted pianist, Arthur Rubenstein. He was often criticized for mistakes in his performances and when someone pointed out some wrong notes Rosina Lhevinne replied, "Ah, but what wrong notes they were!" If you're going to make a mistake, make it a beautiful mistake and make it your own.

Unfortunately, I used all of the ingredients and had little leftovers to do any Lagniappe! with. Stay tuned for my grandmother's pasta sauce recipe in the upcoming first post for Mr. Onion's Neighborhood's new section: The Basics.

Happy cooking, neighbor!

PS - Want to see some pics of our ducks? Visit High Tailed Adventures!

1 comment:

  1. Ahh us onions and Gmom's meatballs! Like the added cheese. You need to do a post with her ever favorite - eggplant balls...yummmy