I knew I wasn’t the only one who loved meatballs when I read about “The Meatball Shop” in the New York Times. The place, which is at 84 Stanton Street on the Lower East Side, opened just 6 weeks ago. It sells only meatballs. 2-ounce meatballs of all kinds—beef, pork, chicken, salmon, vegetables–plus a weekly special. They’re served with 4 kinds of sauce and focaccia ($7.00), as a slider ($3.00) or on a baguette ($9.00). I can hardly wait to go. However, between the time I wrote this and this posting, the Times wrote a rather sad lament about the Meatball Ball Shop in a mini-review last week. So I encourage you to try these. Because I can vouch for how sensational the recipe I followed for Sicilian Meatballs in Food and Wine magazine.
Frank Castronovo and his partner Frank Falcinelli created the original recipe. They are passionate Sicilian cooking fans and practice their art at two New York locations: The Frankie’s Spuntino, 457 Court St., Brooklyn, 718-403-0033; and at 17 Clinton St., New York City, 212-253-2303. (On Clinton St., they’re 5 blocks from The Meatball Shop….hmmmm).
Just what makes a meatball Sicilian? Two ingredients seem to give the ball its name: Dried Currants and Pinoli nuts. Neither seems to overwhelm the garlic-y flavor but both are clearly there—the tiny little currants suddenly give you a pop of fruit and the pignolis a subtle crunch. But overwhelmingly what have you is the most tender meatball I’d ever tasted. Melt-in-your-mouth tender. If you follow this blog, you likely know that when bread of any kind is called for in recipes for everything from meatloaf to crabcakes, I love to use Brioche buns and Challah bread to do the job. These egg-y alternatives to plain white bread or worse–those horrendous dried breadcrumbs people seem to keep in their pantries for life—keep everything moister than their alternatives. So I suppose I’ve just knocked a little Sicilian out of the dish because, let’s face it, Brioche is French and Challah is Jewish. But they both do a lot for my Sicilian meatballs. I served them as Spaghetti and Meatballs but I am sure they’d give The Meatball Shop a run for its money as sliders or heroes. Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Sicilian-Style Meatballs
Two 28 ounce cans of peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
4 slices of Challah bread or 2 Brioche hamburger buns
4 large eggs, beaten
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup flat leaf (Italian parsley)
1 tsp. minced marjoram
2 lbs ground beef chuck
½ cup dried currants
¼ cup pine (pinoli) nuts
¼ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving.
¼ cup brioche or challah crumbs
2 cups vegetable oil for frying.
1. Pour the tomatoes into a large enameled cast-iron casserole and crush them. Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, soak the Brioche or Challah in water until saturated. Squeeze out the water and transfer the bread to a large bowl. Mash the bread to a paste and stir in the eggs, garlic, parsley, marjoram, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mash until smooth. Add the chuck, currants, pine nuts and cheese and gently mix until just combined. Add the Brioche or Challah crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until the mixture is firm enough to roll. Form the mixture into 36 meatballs (about 3 tablespoons each), tucking in the currants and pine nuts.
3. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs in 2 batches and fry over moderate heat, turning, until browned and cooked through, about 12 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Serves 12. Freezes beautifully so it’s well worthwhile making the whole recipe and keeping these beauties on hand.