Ingredients

For the meatballs (makes about 30 - 1.5 ounces each)1 pound ground veal
12 ounces ground pork
2 ounces smoked bacon, ground
2 ounces pork fatback, ground
1 small sweet onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced fine or chopped in the food processor (together with the onion)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon maras pepper (Turkish-style paprika)
1/4 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs

For Orecchiette and Kale:

1 pound orecchiette pasta
1 pound maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms, stems trimmed off
1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced thin
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches black Tuscan kale, stems removed, and leaves rinsed, drained and roughly chopped
4 cups strong chicken broth or stock
2 cups freshly grated cheese (Parmesan, Romano, piave, etc.)
olive oil for sautéing
kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions

For the meatballs (makes about 30 - 1.5 ounces each):

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the ground meats together briefly. The mixture does not need to be completely uniform at this point. Remove 25 percent of this mixture from the bowl and place it into the food processor with the rest of the ingredients and blend well.
2. Place the mixed meats and the processed ingredients together in an electric mixing bowl (KitchenAid mixer) with the paddle attachment, and mix briefly at a slow speed until the ingredients are completely mixed and uniform in texture. This should only take a minute or so.
3. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until ready to form the meatballs. I recommend shaping them into 1.5-ounce balls. The rest of the components of this dish may also be prepared ahead of time.

For the final preparation:

Note: At the restaurant, we serve four meatballs for each guest, but many people find that to be a very generous portion. At home, I would recommend that you use three per guest plus a few extra in case there are some big appetites in your group. The rest of the meatballs can be frozen for future use.

4. Arrange the meatballs in a large roasting pan and pour the chicken broth over them. Bake the meatballs in a 375 degree F. oven for 20 minutes until they are firm to the touch. So that they brown nicely on the tops, you might want to place the roasting pan on the top shelf of the oven, or broil them for 30 seconds at the end - but keep a careful eye on them!

For Orecchiette and Kale:

1. In a large pot, cook the pasta in salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the pasta, drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss it. Set the pasta aside until ready to use.
2. In a large sauté pan, using some olive oil, cook the mushrooms with half of the onion and garlic until they are golden and tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper as you go. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and allow them to cool down to room temperature.
3. Using the same sauté pan and 2 tablespoons olive oil, cook the kale with the rest of the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, again seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. This should take about 4 to 5 minutes. Set the kale aside on a plate to cool down to room temperature as well.
4. With 5 minutes to go to finish the meatballs, heat a large cast-iron skillet and add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the pasta and don't stir for 60 seconds; this will allow the pasta to fry in the oil and will result in the crispy golden edges that contribute to the contrast in textures. Then add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, a pinch of ground black pepper, and stir. Immediately stir in the mushrooms and the kale. When this mixture is hot, transfer it to a large, deep serving platter.

To serve: Using tongs, place the meatballs on top of the pasta mixture and then drizzle the hot chicken broth over the top. Shower the meatballs with the grated cheese and serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy of Chef and Owner Steve Johnson, Rendezvous, 2010.

Chef Steve Johnson of Rendezvous shows you how to prepare his near perfect pork and veal meatballs.

His culinary influences are mainly from the Mediterranean areas of Southern France and Italy as well as North Africa, as can be seen in this dish and many others at his restaurant, Rendezvous.

Besides the veal and pork, the ingredients include smoked bacon, pork fatback, coriander, maras pepper (turkish style paprika, pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika), and allspice.

At the restaurant, they serve four meatballs for each guest, but many people find that to be a very generous portion. At home, he would recommend that you use three per guest plus a few extra in case there are some big appetites in your group. The rest of the meatballs can be frozen for future use.

I'm with Steve Johnson, the chef-owner of Rendezvous in Central Square. Steve, what're you going to make now?

Heather, I'm going to show you how I make my pork and veal meatballs that we serve regularly in the restaurant.

Great, wonderful. So what's in this bowl?

I've got four different meats in this mixture. It's ground pork, ground veal, some smoked bacon, a little bit of pork fatback. And I've also gone ahead and minced in the onion that's in the recipe.

Wonderful. Now, why pork? Why veal?

Well, it's about 50/50 mixture in terms of weight on the veal and the pork. The veal is for tenderness, and the pork gives it a real earthy flavor.

In your restaurant, what would you do with these meatballs?

We braise these pork and veal meatballs. And we serve them with a fried orecchiette, with a mixture of mushrooms and kale, some roasted chicken broth, and some grated cheese.

Mmm, nice.

The first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to start out by taking 25% of this meat mixture. And I'm going to put it into the food processor. There we go. I'm going to process this 25% with the rest of the ingredients--

So what was that?

In the meatballs. This is ground coriander. And this is ground black pepper. So half teaspoon of that. And this is called Marash pepper. This is a Turkish rough-cut paprika that I use all the time in the restaurant. But any type of smoky paprika will work as well.

Now, this is kind of granulated almost, or it's chunkier than paprika I know.

It's a rough-cut paprika that still retains a bit of the oils from the pepper itself. It's not super fine and super dried. The texture is unlike other paprikas. And then I used a little bit of a smoked Spanish paprika, but any other type of paprika will work for this dish.

OK. All right.

I put in just a little bit of ground allspice. And then I've got a tablespoon plus of kosher salt that's measured specifically for this quantity of mixed meats. And then I've got two cloves of chopped garlic.

This dish seems to be coming from a certain region, a certain part of the world.

This is me playing around with flavors that I'm comfortable with. I see this is a Mediterranean confluence of aromas-- the ground coriander and the paprikas, and the allspice are often associated with Arab cultures and cuisines.

And these spices in this meatball mix are not super strong and super spicy. They're there, but they don't dominate. They just give a little bit of personality to the meat mixture. And so when you taste the final dish, you're not saying, oh, there's the allspice, or oh, there's the Marash pepper from Turkey.

I'm going to add some toasted bread crumbs and a little bit of milk-- it's a 1/4 cup of milk.

So that's to keep them holding together, and to keep it moist, right?

Yeah, exactly.

OK, so the toasted breadcrumbs?

It's a really good question. We make good use of leftover bread in our restaurant. And we use the baguettes that are left over from the previous day, cut them into small pieces, and we toast them in the oven. And then we use a big rolling pin to smash them out, and then pass them through a sieve, actually, so that we get finely toasted breadcrumbs that are not like what you get in the bag on the supermarket shelf. It's stale toasted bread, but it's fresh stale toasted bread.

Can you say which bakery?

Yeah, it's Iggy's bakery. And so for us ingredient-wise, it's a good resource to take advantage of.

Absolutely.

It's the gift that keeps on giving. Here I'm going to process this 25% quantity of the meats. I'm making a kind of a paste out of this 25% portion of the meats that includes all of the flavors in the recipe list, including the garlic, along with the milk and the bread crumbs. And this meat that is now basically pureed, it's going to serve the purpose of permeating the rest of the meat mixture.

And it's a superior strategy for getting flavor throughout the meatball-- the ground meats, as opposed to just taking-- why not just take all of these ingredients and put them into a ball, and mix them up? We're going to end up with a mixture in the meatballs that is combining two different textures of meats, actually--

Right.

The ground meats and the processed meats.

So is that a professional tip, or is that a Steve Johnson tip?

That's a Steve Johnson tip, basically, because I've have made a lot of-- we do a lot of ground meats at the restaurant, making sausages of all kinds. And you could taste the difference. If we did a taste test side by side, you really would notice the difference--

That's really interesting.

--in the way that the resulting foods end up.

It's brilliant, I think. It's like an infusion of--

And you can already smell all of these things. You've got the garlic aroma and a little bit of the spices at work there.

Oh, gosh. This smells wonderful.

There you go.

Not the meatballs I'm used to having, I promise you.

So it just takes a few-- depending upon the quality of your mixer, and your mixer seems great-- it's going to take us about 60 seconds just to mix this properly. But we've got a nice texture on the ground meats already. And we don't want to overmix here, to turn the entire thing into mush. We want to keep those two textures still--

A little distinct?

A little distinct, so that we've got the texture of the ground meats. And the pureed meats as the kind of a mush blended in together to hold it.

Now, when I've made meatballs, there's been a question of toughness from too much mixing.

Well, we're going to avoid that problem by just mixing this 30, 45 seconds total. And I think that the texture is going to be real nice. And these meatballs are guaranteed not to be dry. We're just going to form the meatballs into about two-ounce meatballs and we don't necessarily--

Can I help?

Yeah, absolutely-- we don't necessarily have to work the meat much anymore at all, because we let the KitchenAid do that part of the work for us. We just want to form them into their shapes and not work it anymore, so that we don't end up overworking the meat and ruining the texture, and drying them out.

Is mine OK?

I think it looks great.

You made me nervous.

I think it maybe looks a little bit better than mine, actually.

I don't think so.

It's not a contest.

So tell me about the food at Rendezvous.

Well, I describe it as mainly Western Mediterranean influence. We do dishes that are inspired by the foods of France, Spain, Italy, and a little North Africa. And that comes from my days of when I was a student in Montpellier in southern France, the capital of Languedoc, about 30 years ago, where I was studying French language and literature. But I became exposed to all these foods that I had never seen before. You see a lot of North African influences in the foods that we do at the restaurant. And that comes from spending time in the neighborhoods and the spice stores, and eating in restaurants--

And that was when you were very young then? You weren't even thinking about a culinary career?

Not at all. But afterwards I came back to the United States and started working in restaurants. And professionally then I set about the business of trying to recreate all these tastes and flavors that I had experienced first hand as a kid while I was studying in France.

Nice. You, like many restaurants, really want to focus on local ingredients, but you're telling me that your dishes are French-inspired, North African-inspired. How do you do that with local ingredients?

We shop from New England farmer and fishermen to do our own renditions of those dishes that are inspired by faraway places.

Right.

And I'm going to pour in some roasted chicken broth here.

All right, so that looks like beautiful chicken broth.

It's a little bit better than you get out of a can. And--

Just a little.

I'm just going to sprinkle a little bit of salt, mainly into the chicken broth part of this.

Now, why is that?

Because the broth, just like any stock that you're going to make, is not seasoned. And so, while the meatballs are properly seasoned from the measured ingredient list that we had, the chicken broth needs to be brought into balance with the rest of the dish before we put it into the oven.

So you didn't add a lot of salt to this chicken broth, is what you're saying, when you were making it?

We actually use no salt whatsoever when we make the stock.

Interesting, huh.

And so we have a plain stock. When we're using it to build other dishes, we'll season as we go along.

That is an interesting tip, too.

Yeah. We're actually going to put this baking tray on the top shelf of your oven where the heat is the hottest on the top. So they're going to simmer in this broth in the oven. But hopefully the top of them will brown at the same time and will get nicely browned on top but moist all the way through when we take [? them back out. ?]

Great. So no turning or anything?

No.

They're just going to sit like that?

Yes.

OK, Steve, these look like they're really done.

Hey, that worked out great.

Oh, they're beautiful. Oh, wow.

And they got nicely browned on top. You see, our strategy worked well. That was about 18 minutes at 425 degrees.

Yes, right. And they just smell so unusual. And they smell so good.

You want to taste them?

I would love to, yes.

Let's get a couple out of the pan and taste them and see how they really are.

And you know what? The undersides are pale. And I can tell, they're going to be very delicate.

But they stayed nice and moist. And I always like to take a little bit of this hot, lightly salted chicken broth and spoon it over the top. And I'm just going to sprinkle a little bit of this grated Piave cheese on top.

What's Piave cheese?

Piave cheese is similar-- it's like poor man's Parmesan.

Oh.

Yeah. It's another hard grating cheese. And it's from northern Italy. There you go.

That looks pretty like that. OK, can I cut in?

Yeah, why don't you start?

All right, so--

Ladies first.

This would be a nice little appetizer in your restaurant, huh? I like this.

But we serve it as a main course with the toasted orecchiette pasta dish. And it really works because you get all these great flavors, but it's a lot of great textures that all come together in the dish as well.

Oh, the textures are great. Yeah. But very delicate.

Yes.

I think we did the mixing just right.

Tasty, huh?

Really tasty. And sort of a back taste of spiciness. It doesn't hit you right away. That must be the way the paprika works, right?

A little bit of black pepper and garlic. Excuse me, I'm speaking with my mouth full.

Well--

I didn't really think that I was that hungry till I started tasting.

I know, I know. I could finish it.

Go ahead. There's plenty more.

Well, thank you for coming and teaching me how to do this.

Yeah, totally fun.

And I hope to be in Rendezvous soon.

I'll keep an eye out for you.

All right.

The Perfect Meatball
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