Sunday, January 21, 2007

Big Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta

If you hear the word, "meatballs," and immediately think, "spaghetti with...," you need to keep reading.

Forget about fussy little meatballs that take ages to roll and fry. If you want spaghetti, try a Bolognese. The next time you want meatballs, try this recipe. You form them into roughly two-inch patties, so a serving is about 2 meatballs per person. A quick sear in a skillet creates a wonderfully crusty exterior. Then they are smothered in a simple mushroom-tomato sauce and baked so they stay moist within.

The polenta can come together at the last minute, as you take the meatballs out of the oven. Finely ground (not stone ground) cornmeal cooks instantly. You could also use one of the imported Italian products labeled "instant polenta." I like these products, but they are not as smooth as the finely ground cornmeal. It depends on your preference. Make sure you spoon some of the juice from the meatballs over the polenta before serving. Eat this once and you'll never think of meatballs any other way.

Big Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta
The idea behind this recipe comes from Tyler Florence, but I have adapted and simplified it down to its delicious fundamentals.
Serves 6 to 8 (Makes 14 large meatballs)

1 1/2 lb. ground beef sirloin
1 1/2 lb. ground pork
2 tbs. Worchestershire sauce
6 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
3 large eggs
½ c. dried bread crumbs with Italian seasoning
big handful of chopped parsley (divided)
handful of chopped basil (divided)
1 tsp kosher salt, plus additional to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
12 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1-28oz. can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, Worchestershire sauce, two-thirds of the garlic, eggs and bread crumbs. Reserve about 1 tablespoon each of the parsley and basil for garnish and add the remaining herbs to the bowl. Add the salt and pepper and blend everything together gently with your hands. Form the meat mixture into about 14 large meatballs (about 4.5 ounces each if you're using a kitchen scale), roughly 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Shape them more like hockey pucks than tennis balls. Set the meatballs on a large platter.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly browned. Add remaining garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the can of tomatoes, tomato paste and water and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until sauce is thick and flavors blend. Taste for seasoning, remove from heat and set aside.

Coat a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil or cooking spray and heat it to medium-high. Add as many meatballs as will fit comfortably, leaving about 1 inch of space between them. Cook until the bottoms are browned, then flip and brown the reverse side. Remove the meatballs to a large baking dish (I used 9 x 13) and repeat with the remaining meatballs. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until cooked through (internal temp should be 160F). Garnish with reserved parsley and basil and serve immediately over creamy polenta.

Creamy Polenta
Adapted from Tyler Florence

4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ c. finely ground cornmeal
¼ c. half and half or milk
1 tbs. unsalted butter
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a full boil. Turn the heat to low and start stirring the broth with a wire whisk. Gradually add the cornmeal as you constantly whisk. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk in the half and half and butter. If your polenta thickens too quickly, whisk in hot water to thin it out. It can cook alarmingly fast, but it is forgiving and will still taste great if it is a little lumpy. Season to taste and serve immediately.

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MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh boy garlic, basil, cloves: great meat flavors and then top it on polenta. Oh, yeah...that eating well. I'd be tempted to try some hot itlalian turkey sausage! Sounds very good.

Patricia Scarpin said...


My father grew up eating polenta and when I was single, living with him, I used to make it twice a week. The man loves polenta. :D

I love it too and haven't made any because of the hot weather here. Your photo made me think again: I guess I'll be eating some polenta this week, even if I have to place the fan by my side! :D

Lis said...

God. It's only 11:35 here. I have 1.5 hours until lunch and I doubt I'll find anything as good as what you've made!! *sob*

Kristen said...

I am so hungry now that I looked at your post...and I just finished lunch!

Julie said...

Half Cups: I love that hot Italian turkey sausage...put it in anything and I'll eat it.
Patricia: That's sweet! If you use the instant stuff, you'll only have to stand over a hot stove for a few minutes. And you could always let the polenta firm up in the fridge, cut it into triangles and grill it.
Lis and Kristen: Just thinking about them makes me hungry too! Alas, the leftovers are now long gone!

Zoe said...

This is dinner tonight!