Grilled Italian Meatballs with Pomodoro Sauce

Grilled Italian Meatballs with Pomodoro Sauce

  • Servings: 10-12 balls
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

    Meatballs
  • 1 lb ground lamb (can substitute with ground pork or regular ground beef)
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, shredded
  • 1/3 cup whole buttermilk
  • 1 small onion, shredded
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/3 cup panko crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp parmesan, shredded
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • Sauce
  • 14 oz/400g (~1/2 can) canned tomatoes (San Marzano suggested)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Directions

Mix together the lamb, beef, shredded garlic, buttermilk, onion, dried spices, panko crumbs, eggs, parmesan, salt and pepper. Form into large balls, about 2-3″/5-8cm wide. Heat BBQ to medium heat. Place meatballs on the grill (recommended to use a grill mat). Cook for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through, or until the inside of the meatball is fully cooked. For sauce, place all the ingredients in a pot and place on the stove on medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce temperature to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes. If desired, blend sauce to make smooth. Place meatballs in pot with sauce, turning gently to fully coat and heat through if cooled. Place on plate, pour sauce over meatballs. Serve.

And now for the details…

The weather is turning crisper, the leaves are changing colour and school buses can be seen driving past the windows all morning/afternoon. Not to mention that Pumpkin Spice everything is available again. Fall is here folks. And I am not a fan. I don’t know what it is about fall, but I feel unsettled and uncomfortable. Plus, it means that summer (my favourite season) is officially over. And so, I’m gripping what’s left of summer with all the strength I have and squeezing what’s left out of grilling and sunshine.

And so, grilled meatballs.

Could you do these in the oven instead? Of course you can. But grilling allows that extra bit of charred oomph, and who doesn’t want to tszuj up their dinner a little?

We start out with the meatballs themselves. I have used ground beef and lamb for mine, but if you are not okay with eating lamb (I have quite a few folk in my life who are not), or don’t have it readily accessible, feel free to swap out the lamb for pork or more ground beef. But if you are using ground beef for the whole thing, I would recommend doing a 50/50 mix of lean and regular ground beef, since the lamb does contain a bit more fat than lean ground beef, and we want that fat for an added punch of flavour.

Place the meats in a large bowl, and add in the rest of the meatball ingredients: buttermilk, garlic, onion, spices, panko crumbs, eggs, parmesan, S&P. Options to switch out? Buttermilk can be switched out for regular whole milk. And while I haven’t tried it, if there is a dairy allergy in your household, I would imagine a non-dairy alternative could be used. If you do try that out, let me know how it goes! You can also switch out the panko crumbs for regular bread crumbs. If you end up buying the “Italian Style” breadcrumbs, go a bit lighter on the spices and salt that you add, since those will already be in the bread crumbs.

Next, we mix all that good stuff together. Similar to in my burger recipe, I am going to recommend you do this with your hands, not a spoon or spatula. Because like that recipe, we are going to try and minimize how much we handle the meat. And the reason? Same as with the burgers, the more we mix and push ground meat around, the more we compress it, resulting in a tough or chewy meatball. No thank you. I want my meatballs juicy and tender. Using our hands allows for a gentler touch, and overall helps reduce the likelihood of overmixing. (Holding myself back from adding “that’s what he/she said” was really difficult through this entire paragraph folks, I hope you appreciate my restraint)

Once it’s all mixed together, form them up into relatively even-sized balls, about 2-3″/5-8cm in width. We are going a bit bigger here than say, Swedish-style meatballs, since they are going on the grill and we don’t want them falling through! Again, a light touch here, just enough to have the meatballs hold together, but not squishing them like a vice.

And then we get to the cooking. (Before we really get into grilling, you can always skip to the sauce and have that going on the stove/bbq burner at the same time you’re cooking the meatballs.) Preheat your grill to medium heat (somewhere around 350º-400ºF/175º-205ºC). I would strongly recommend using a grill mat for the cooking of the meatballs. This will help avoid any sticking to the grill (and the resulting breaking apart of the meatballs!) as well as keep the fat from dripping all over your grill, which could cause flare-ups and over-charring of the meatballs (plus the mess of cleanup is contained to the mat). We are going to cook the meatballs for about 10-12 minutes total. Our goal is to get the insides of the meatball fully cooked, which means it will register at about 160ºF/71ºC if you poke the middle with a thermometer. We will also be flipping the meatballs just over halfway through the cooking process to brown both sides. Be extra careful when flipping. This is probably the most likely point for the meatball to fall apart. I used a fork and a set of tongs to carefully flip mine over.

When the meatballs are done, remove them from the grill to a plate and set aside.

The sauce is nice and easy. We are going to put all the ingredients for the sauce (canned tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, S&P) into a pot on medium-high heat and bring it up to to a simmer. Once it starts to simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and let it bubble away for about 20 minutes, stirring every now and again. If you like a smooth sauce, after the 20 minutes, blend it up (transfer to a blender or use a handheld blender in the pot). Finally, transfer the meatballs into the pot with the sauce. This is another place to be careful. Don’t stir the bejeezus out it, or the meatballs will break apart. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can skip straight to serving, but I like transferring the meatballs with the juices into the sauce to add a bit of extra flavour and to get the meatballs and sauce to the same temperature. Turn the meatballs gently in the sauce to get them nice and fully coated.

Finally, we are ready to eat! Transfer the meatballs to a serving dish, and pour the tomato sauce over top. Serve with your favourite pasta, or with some bread to mop up all that tasty tomato sauce.

Happy eating.

A Summer Risotto, with Zucchini and Pesto

Zucchini Pesto Risotto

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 1.5 shallots, minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 4 cups turkey broth
  • 1.5 cups arborio rice
  • 1 medium zucchini, spiralized
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp pesto
  • Fresh basil, chopped, for garnish

Directions

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until fragrant, but not yet brown. Add the rice, and stir constantly until the rice has started to become translucent, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and stir continuously until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. Add the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring regularly between each pour, and waiting until the liquid has been mostly absorbed between adds. Once the rice has reached almost the desired consistency (~3 cups of broth), add the zucchini and stir gently into the risotto. Add the remaining broth in the same manner as the rest, until the desired consistency is reached, then remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Turn out into a serving platter, top with the basil and pesto, and serve.

And now for the details…

I love risotto. It is one of my favourite dishes. But I don’t make it often. Not because it’s difficult, but because it’s a bit demanding. Seriously, talk about high maintenance. It requires regular attention from the moment you start cooking, needing to add the liquid bit by bit, and stir regularly to ensure you don’t end up with a layer of dried or burnt rice coating the bottom of the pot. And because you add the liquid gradually, the cooking time is usually 20-30 minutes of unceasing hovering like a helicopter mom to ensure the result is as desired. But that result? Pure deliciousness. A creamy, lustrous texture, with tiny “popping” bites of rice grain centres.

Risotto seems to go great with vegetables. And for this particular recipe, I had some nice zucchini in the fridge that seemed to be calling to be added. To bump the flavour up even more, I chose to top this off with some pesto (bought, I regret to say, I got a bit lazy with that one) and some fresh basil.

Let’s get to cooking. We will start by heating the broth. In a small to medium pot, heat your broth on low heat and hold it on low heat for the duration of the cooking. I used turkey broth, since I has some homemade broth in the freezer, and I find that turkey broth adds additional richness to the risotto. But a chicken broth would work, or a vegetable broth if you would like to make this a vegetarian dish.

Once the broth is heating on the stove, mince the garlic and shallots, and spiralize your zucchini. Set the zucchini aside, and add the garlic and shallots to a second pot, with the oil, on medium heat. Stir until fragrant and the shallots have slightly softened. Then, add the arborio rice and stir. Continue to cook and stir until the majority of the rice kernels have turned translucent, with just a bit of opaqueness in the middle of the kernel, about 1-2 minutes. Why do we cook the rice dry before adding our liquid? From the research I have done, it is to end up with a slightly skin around the rice kernel, to ensure the rice maintains a bit of that “bite”, instead of a mushy porridge-like consistency. To be honest, I have never tried risotto without doing this step, so I am not entirely sure the overall effect on the dish if I skipped it.

Next, add the wine and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. After the wine, we will add the broth bit by bit (about 1/2 cup at a time), stirring between each addition. Do not make the next addition until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice from the previous addition.

Scrape the rice on the sides of the pot down regularly, to ensure all the rice kernels are being cooked rather than dried out. Once you are nearing the end of your broth (around 1 cup left), taste test the rice to check the consistency. I like a bit of bite to my risotto, so I do not add all the liquid. But if you prefer a creamier texture, continue to add more broth until just before your desired consistency. When you are nearing the end of the cooking, with just a bit more bite than you would like, add the zucchini, and stir.

The zucchini will cook and soften quite quickly. Add a bit more broth if needed and pull the risotto off the heat. Add the shredded parmesan and stir well until the parmesan is melted and consistently mixed into the risotto.

Turn the risotto out into a serving platter, and top with you pesto. I was lazy this time around and used a pesto I got from my local Italian grocer. But there are plenty of recipes out there for fairly simple pestos, with basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt, and pine nuts.

After topping the risotto with the pesto, sprinkle with the fresh, chopped basil, and serve.

Happy eating.