Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mama Mia, That's a Spicy Meatball: Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the amazing meatball extravaganza at the Meatball Shop in NYC that I recently discovered. Lucky girl that I am, I also recently received a copy of their cookbook, The Meatball Shop Cookbook, to review. It was released this past November, and still pretty new to bookshelves. Especially after dining at the Meatball Shop on all the yummy balls they have there, I couldn't wait to crack open their cookbook and try some of the recipes myself. I take my job pretty seriously. I actually tried four separate recipes in the span of a week. Two recipes were for balls, one was a sauce, and one was a salad dressing. Yup, I did that. All of that. And it wasn't even enough, because I still wanted to make more! See, the thing about meatballs, and this cookbook especially, is that they are so easy to make and convenient to freeze! So you can make several different batches during a period of time, and then freeze some of them for later! It's a working person's dream!

First of all, I love the language of the cookbook. Yes, it's English, but that's not what I'm talking about. The Meatball Shop's co-owners Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow are responsible for writing this book, and their voices really shine. Although serious meatball-lovers will love this book, the writing is more playful than serious at times, and it really highlights the laid-back quality of the entire concept of meatballs as a meal. Meatballs don't take themselves that seriously, and neither should you :)

In addition to a brief history of the Meatball Shop, the book also contains lots of tips such as the 10 Commandments of a Great Sandwich, and Meeting Your Butcher, simple suggestions that will improve your ball quality. I also love that all the balls in this book are roasted as opposed to frying or braising. They do suggest that readers try different techniques, but point out that this method results in the most consistent ball cookery for their purposes, and probably yours. I also prefer this method as you don't add more fat by pan-frying. The meat has plenty of fat as it is. And although there isn't a photograph for each and every recipe, there are plenty... all mouthwatering.

My first foray into the Meatball Shop Cookbook was with their classic beef meatballs. I accompanied the balls with spicy meat sauce, also from the book, and assembled them into hero sandwiches, or "grinders" as us New Englanders would say (I'm a New England girl through and through, regardless of my chosen residence). Topped with provolone cheese (or "circle cheese" as my nephew would call it), these grinders were the best meatball grinders any of us had ever had! Let's start from the beginning. The classic beef meatballs are a standby recipe. Instead of the typical Parmesan cheese, ricotta gives these a great, moist texture. The only change I made was to omit the ground fennel, because quite frankly I couldn't find any at the supermarket and didn't have a spice grinder handy to make it myself. It wasn't missed.

For the sauce, I went all out and bought the fancy Pomi chopped tomatoes that come in a box and are imported from Italy. Although the recipe offers a canned tomato suggestion, when I saw these pricey boxes at the supermarket I decided to splurge. It was totally worth it. You can really taste the difference in quality, and there's no metallic aftertaste that can sometimes come from cheaper canned tomatoes (and all of the tomatoes were ripe red, unlike some canned tomatoes that you just KNOW were barely ripe when picked and canned). Ground pork was the meat component to the sauce, and a generous hit of crushed red pepper flakes offered a nice warmth to the sauce that wasn't too overpowering. The marriage of the meatballs, spicy meat sauce, and cheese made these grinders delightful. We slightly hollowed out the bread to make it less bready and give the balls somewhere safe to sit. Just be careful not to hollow too much, because even after you toast the bread, if what's left is too thin, it will get soggy really fast.

Although not included in the book, I believe tater tots are a PERFECT accompaniment to meatballs :-D

I also made the Greek balls, which are lamb-based (although I think beef would work great) and contain Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and some quick preserved lemon (recipe included in the book). I made tzatziki as the accompanying sauce and served these guys "naked." On the side, we had a simple romaine salad with cucumber and a yogurt vinaigrette. The vinaigrette recipe was from the book, and honestly a great go-to salad dressing. The yogurt makes it very easy to emulsify the oil, as opposed to a traditional vinaigrette which must be whisked very slowly as the oil is added in a thin, tiring stream. Overall, these balls were full of flavor and certainly highlighted the Greek flavor profile. Once again they were easy to make and very straightforward.

So far so good! I've loved every recipe I've tried from this book. I can thus HIGHLY recommend it to meatball lovers across the universe. Some other recipes I really look forward to trying are their famous veggie balls, Buffalo chicken balls, spicy pork balls, billy goat balls (made with goat meat and goat cheese... though I'd easily substitute the goat meat for something else), Swedish meatballs, gobble gobble balls (Thanksgiving in a meatball), and so much more. And that's only chapter one! The book contains so many amazing sauces, sides, veggies, and salads too. How does roasted cauliflower with hot cherry peppers and bread crumbs sound? It's on my list too!

**Just a quick note... if you decide to try their veggie balls (recipe is linked above), it states that the mushrooms should be sliced, but I've asked them at the restaurant if they slice or chop their mushrooms. They said they chop them, which makes a lot more sense since there aren't huge chunks of mushroom in their veggie balls. Please keep this is mind if you attempt that recipe :)

Finally, a chapter of sweets offers cookie and ice cream recipes from the shop. Their chocolate ice cream was so unforgettable, that I will definitely be trying the version in the cookbook to attempt to recreate the euphoria I experienced at the restaurant. My only wish is that in addition to the sweets they had included a few recipes for their amazing homemade seasonal lemonades. Ah well, I guess I can't have all of their secrets, right? If you'd like to try their classic beef meatballs, the recipe is all over the internet, but I'd try this one as it's an exact replica of what is written in the book. I'm happy to share the spicy meat sauce recipe (which would also be awesome over pasta) as well as my own tzatziki which I paired with the Greek balls. I hope you enjoy!

Spicy Meat Sauce
Makes 8 cups
(From The Meatball Shop Cookbook)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 pound ground pork, preferably shoulder
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (26-ounce) boxes Pomi chopped tomatoes or 2 (28-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, roughly chopped with their liquid

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, ground pork, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is thoroughly cooked and the onions are soft and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and stir constantly until sauce begins to boil. Continue cooking for 35 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to prevent burning. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

Makes about 3 cups

2 cups Greek-style yogurt (17.6 oz / 500 g container)
1 cup shredded cucumber (1/2 an unpeeled English cucumber)
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 T.)
1 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. kosher salt

Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl and serve.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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