Several months ago while reading Food & Wine magazine, I saw a recipe for Pork and Ricotta Meatballs, served at A16, a San Francisco restaurant. I remembered how a friend raved about the meatballs after visiting the restaurant. So, my interest was stoked and I made a mental note to make the meatballs and see if they were really as good as people claimed. Just the thought of making them was compelling, because I have a fatal weakness for meatball. I don't know why a clump of meat tastes better rolled into a little ball, but it does. As for these particular meaty orbs, I wound up eating 6 meatballs for dinner. Nothing else, just the meatballs. (The tomato sauce counts as a vegetable, and a fruit.) Later, while putting the leftovers away, I jammed two more meatballs into my mouth. I will make these again, and feel deliriously happy that there are now several containers of them stashed in the freezer.
Looking at the recipe, I saw a lot to like, especially the fennel seed. When I was younger, I hated fennel in all forms. But, that changed and I seek out fennel now, in bulb or seed. The seed is actually the fruit of the plant, and has an anise-like flavor. Some people use fennel seed to soothe and settle an upset stomach. However, I rely on it as an excellent flavoring for foods. Although technically, it's a spice, I'm featuring it for Weekend Herb Blogging, which was created by the lovely Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen. This week WHB is being hosted by the fabulous Anh at Food Lover's Journey. Do yourself a favor and head over to her site, to see all the great herby recipes in her roundup this weekend. You'll be very glad you did.
This recipe is listed as a staff favorite at Food & Wine, a very reliable recommendation, I've found. Here's the way it began--a big bowl full of breadcrumbs, pork, pancetta, ricotta, fennel seed and other ingredients. After mixing it, I used a 1/4 measuring cup to make each ball. I wound up with 23 balls.
Pork-and-Ricotta Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
(Food & Wine)
1/2 pound sliced white bread, crusts removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup ricotta cheese (5 ounces)
3 ounces pancetta, thinly sliced and minced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Two 28-ounce cans peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons shredded basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a food processor, pulse the bread to coarse crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a large bowl and add the pork, pancetta, eggs, ricotta, parsley, oregano, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Mix well. Shape into 24 meatballs, using about 3 rounded tablespoons of the mixture for each. I found that a 1/4 measuring cup gave the right amount of meat for each meatball. Transfer the meatballs to an oiled medium roasting pan. (I used 2 smaller baking pans.)
2. Roast the meatballs in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until firm and just beginning to brown. Using a spatula, loosen the meatballs from the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Lower the oven temperature to 325° and cook uncovered for about 2 hours, or until the sauce is very thick and the meatballs are very tender; turn the meatballs once or twice during cooking. (My meatballs were ready in about 75 minutes.)
3. Transfer the meatballs and tomato sauce to a large platter. Garnish with the basil and Pecorino and serve hot.