It's funny, I don't find myself making meatballs too often. I suspect it might have to do with the fact that they were always available on any given Sunday while I was growing up, so I've definitely had my share in life. Every week you could count on an assortment of meats stewing away in a large simmering vat of gravy on the stove top. Newspapers strewn about the house, Floyd Vivino (Uncle Floyd) on the radio and a usually gray Long Island sky...paired with smells of sweet tomatoes and parmigiano, signified this iconic day of the week. My earliest cooking memory is taking part in the creation of the meatball making. At 6 or 7 years old, I'd stand on a step stool to assist in adding the cheese or the breadcrumbs and of course help roll. I loved that sizzling sound as the they hit the hot pan of olive oil, then the distinct smell of garlic and cheese that followed a few seconds after. It was so hard to wait for that meal, it seemed as though it would be forever before we all got to sit down and enjoy it. Last night I decided to return to my "roots" and make meatball subs. I need to get started on my sauce first, so into a pot with a bit of olive oil covering the base, I add some finely chopped onion, red pepper flake and about 5 cloves of garlic. As it begins to turn translucent, I add in a can of San Marzano peeled tomatoes. I try not to use canned tomatoes too much, I prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but when time is of the essence or I don't fully approve of the tomato selection, I'll turn to my trusted San Marzano. If you are going to use a canned peeled tomato, this is the highest quality and sweetest tomato to use native to Naples, Italy. I add a pinch of sugar to the sauce and then let it simmer away as I begin my meatballs.
The best meatballs are always comprised from a variety of meats, typically: beef, pork and veal. Last night, I had no access to veal so I went the route of beef and pork only (still delicious). I add the meats to a large bowl, along with panko breadcrumbs, parmigiano, egg, milk, a few cloves of crushed garlic, chopped parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Mixing well with my hands to ensure it's all incorporated, I then begin to roll them out. In a large pan, I heat both olive oil and canola oil. In the past, my mother always used straight up olive oil and I'd probably do the same except that my petite house isn't equipped with the proper range it needs to handle the smokey frying. Canola oil has a much higher smoking point than olive oil so my tiny kitchen appreciates it. When you fry the meatballs, the goal is to get a nice crust on all sides but not worry about cooking the center completely, they will finish cooking in the sauce. As each meatball looks perfectly crisped, I lay them out on some paper towel to absorb excess oil. With my the meatballs waiting patiently, I turn to my sauce once again and this time use my hand blender to chop up all of the tomato and create a smooth sauce. The meatballs are now transferred to the pot and will sit simmering for the next few hours. It doesn't matter how long you keep this pot simmering, just as long as you have on the stove no less than 2 hours. You are using pork so it's important to ensure they cook through. Because you are finishing the meatballs low and slow, they won't overcook but instead get more and more tender the longer you keep it there...it's really a win, win!
We recently had a new bakery open up here in Orlando, so I thought I'd go in search for the perfect roll for my sandwiches. I found a wonderful Ciabatta roll that was just the right size and surprisingly light and didn't have the dense, heavy texture that most Ciabatta rolls tend to have. Thank you to Yalaha Bakery!
Since a meatball sub could be quite satisfying eaten all by itself, I just wanted to make a little side salad for some greenery. Walking through produce at the supermarket, I was pleased to see signs of the looming fall season. With four different varieties of fresh figs at my fingertips, I reached for the Black Mission. The figs would be the driving creativity behind to my pre-fall salad, so I grabbed a pear and some pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds). I sliced each fig in half and tossed it with a shake of cinnamon, balsamic and a bit of olive oil. Roasting them in the oven at 400 for about 8 minutes on each side. As my figs cool to room temperature, I mixed up a quick orange vinaigrette. The juice of a fresh halved orange, apple cider vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. That's all it takes to make an amazingly light and flavorful dressing. I sliced my pear thinly and drizzled some fresh lemon juice over it to prevent it from oxidizing. Just before serving, I'll toss the fresh greens in the dressing and top with my roasted fig, sliced pear, pepitas and a few dollops of crumbled goat cheese. It's important to note that any blue cheese would pair wonderfully with this salad (Roquefort or Gorgonzola) but I still have yet to come around to appreciate the taste of these strong cheeses...maybe one day, maybe never.
With dinnertime nearing, I needed some ricotta cheese to spread on my ciabatta rolls. You could eat the sub with simply shaving a few more sprinkles of parmigiano but I wanted that creamy and tangy bite to compliment the richness of the meatballs and sauce. I decided to quickly make some homemade ricotta. It's incredibly easy to make and there are a few differing recipes out there but I chose to simply boil some milk, cream and a bit of salt. Upon boiling, I squeezed in the juice of a fresh lemon, lowered the heat and stirred until I began to see curds. Letting it sit for a few minutes, I then poured it into a cheesecloth, sitting over a strainer. I set it in the fridge to cool for about 30 minutes.
Time to assemble the subs. Slicing each roll in half, I spread the ricotta on the lower side of the roll where my meatballs would soon rest, then drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and torn basil. I sliced my meatballs in half for stability on the sub and gently lay them down. Spooning some sauce on the opposite side of the roll. I add a few extra shavings of parmigiano and basil before closing it up and taking that first mouth watering bite. The sauce is addictive and it's HIGHLY recommended to serve with a side of it for dipping. Mangia!