I have been making these meatballs for years. They were inspired by the celebrated Oakland restaurant Pizzaiolo. The thing I love about these meatballs is that you can pack a ton of greens into them. I have a bit of a kale problem in my garden right now (aka – I planted way too much kale in my garden), so I have been happily picking kale with these in mind.
If you don’t have day old bread, fresh is fine – heck I have even subbed Ritz crackers and it turned out great. For greens you could use swiss chard, spinach, any kind of green you would like, really. I have even used a bag of mixed spring greens that were getting a bit wilted. Lastly, you could sub canned tomatoes for the fresh.
Happy almost fall, friends!
Meatballs with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Yield: about 24 meatballs, or 8 servings
1 large bunch kale
½ yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 slices day old bread
½ cup whole milk
¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 pound ground beef
2 T Olive oil
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, or about 4-5 cups chopped
Salt and pepper
Fresh Basil, grated parmesan, cooked pasta or roasted spaghetti squash or a really good slice of toasted bread – or just the meatballs!
Mis en Place
- Take a moment to gather your ingredients and equipment. For equipment you’ll need a large mixing bowl, large plate, knife, cutting board, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, large cast iron pan, blender, wooden spoon, and a heatproof spatula.
Chop your veg.
- Remove the ribs of the kale and wash well. Taking a few leaves at a time, stack them on top of each other and roll into a “burrito” lengthwise. Chop across the roll in about ½ inch strips. Once you are done chopping your stack of leaves give the pile a few chops in the other direction. (See photo above for a visual) You don’t want any big pieces, so make sure to look out for any and chop as needed. Dice your onion into medium dice. Yield will be roughly 6 cups. Place in a large bowl.
- Small dice the onion.
- Mince the garlic.
Cook the veg!
- Heat up your cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a minute, then add the garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the kale one third at a time, and add a three finger pinch of salt with each addition. Cook until the kale wilts down and then add the next handful. Once all the kale has been added and is wilted, turn off heat and check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Scrape all veg onto a plate, spread it out, and place in the fridge.
- Clean and dry the pan if it is large enough to house the meatballs and about 4 cups of sauce. If not, grab a pan that will and place it on the stove so you are ready to cook the meatballs.
Make the panade
- Tear the bread into small pieces and place into the large mixing bowl the kale was in. Pour over the milk and push the bread down until it is submerged in the milk. Allow to sit until the bread is saturated and squish with your hands to make a paste. This is called a panade!
Prepare the sauce
- Wash your tomatoes and remove the stem and core. Halve or quarter depending on size and place in a blender. Add a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth.
Mix the meatballs
- Add the meat into the bowl with the panade, along with the egg, ½ tsp salt, cooled veg, pinch of pepper, and Parmesan. Roll up your sleeves and mix well with your hands. If you’d like, and I would recommend if this were your first time making this recipe, you can check for seasoning by heating up a pan with olive oil and cook a small patty. Adjust seasoning as your prefer.
Cook the meatballs and sauce
- Roll the meatballs into golf ball sized pieces and place on a plate (save dishes by using the one that you put the cooked veg on!). Heat up your cast iron pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add 2 T olive oil, or enough to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Add your meatballs carefully in one layer in the pan and let them cook for a few minutes. If they do not all fit in the pan do the browning in batches, transferring the browned meatballs back to the plate. You are looking for the meatballs to brown. Using a spatula, check the underside of one of the meatballs. If the meatball resists flipping over, allow it to cook for another minute. Once the meatballs are browned on one side, flip it and cook until browned on both sides.
- Once all the meatballs are browned, put them all in the pan. Add your blended tomatoes (be careful, it may splatter). Give the pan a quick stir with your wooden spoon to ensure that none of the meatballs are stuck on the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat to maintain a low simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes but up to 1 hour. Once the meatballs are done cooking, check the sauce for seasoning.
- You can serve the meatballs and sauce over cooked pasta, roasted spaghetti squash, or a piece of good toasted bread. Whatever you decide, be sure to top with lots of freshly torn basil and Parmesan cheese and enjoy. These also make a fine meatball sandwich.