It is a cool and rainy Sunday morning here in Toronto. Thousands of runners are braving the elements to run in the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon. As much as I enjoy running, I cannot imagine trying a marathon. These committed athletes are making their way around our city while the rain relentlessly beats down on them. They are truly dedicated to their sport.
It is the kind of day when you want to stay in, curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea and some comfort food. A friend told me that we crave comfort food in the fall so that our bodies can store fat for the winter. I plan to feed my craving while working it off later at the indoor ice skating rink.
Yes, I am learning to skate all over again. Last night I donned ice skates for the first time in over 20 years. I was extremely tentative on the ice because I was trying to skate in hockey skates. I learned to skate with figure skates so I kept try to use the pick on the front of my skates but there was none. A sweet little girl came up to me and congratulated me for learning so fast. I was embarrassed because I used to skate quite often as a child. It just goes to show you that you need to practice to be a good athlete. My years of being off of the rink made me skate like a beginner all over again.
I will feed my craving today with one of my favourite comfort foods, homemade meatballs. They don’t have to be served on top of spaghetti to be good. In fact, you can serve them on the side of some vegetables or potatoes or pasta. Any way that you choose to serve them will make a heart warming meal.
Meatballs al Forno
Makes 24 meatballs or 8 servings
¾ cup day-old crustless bread
¼ cup whole milk
1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
½ large yellow Spanish onion, minced
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 extra-large eggs
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tsp. pure ground red pepper flakes
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
6 ½ oz. pancetta, finely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour for dredging
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 quart tomato sauce
1 quart chicken stock
3 dried bay leaves
6 leaves of fresh basil, finely chopped
Put the day-old bread in a small bowl, pour in the milk, and set aside to soak for about 5 minutes.
Combine the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, onion, parsley, eggs, garlic, ground red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Add the pork, veal and pancetta. Squeeze the bread in your hands to press out the milk, discard the excess milk. Add the bread to the bowl with the other ingredients and use the tips of your fingers to combine the ingredients without overworking them. Divide the meat into 2-ounce portions and roll each portion into a ball.
Pour the flour into a large bowl or another dish convenient for dredging. Dredge the meatballs in the flour, shake off any excess, and place them on a baking sheet. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the meatballs for at least an hour or overnight.
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Pour the live oil into a large Dutch oven or ovenproof skillet and add more if needed to cover the bottom of the pan to ¼ inch deep.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Working in two batches, place the meatballs in a single layer in the pan and sear them until they are lightly browned all over, about 6 minutes. Be gentle with them when turning so they don’t fall apart.
Remove the meatballs to a plate. Add more oil to the plan and repeat the process for the second batch. Turn off the heat and wipe the oil and browned bits from the pan. Return the meatballs to the pan. Combine the tomato sauce and chicken stock and pour the liquid over the meatballs. You want to make sure the meatballs are submerged but not drowning in the liquid. Add the bay leaves in place the meatballs in the oven to braise for 1 hour. Remove the meatballs from the oven and allow them to rest in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.
The meatballs can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance.
To serve, remove the meatballs to a plate and skim off and discard the fat from the sauce. Spoon a thin layer of sauce on a serving platter, lay the meatballs on top of the sauce. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the meatballs, sprinkle with basil and serve.
Recipe modified from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreno