Swedish Meatballs, Brussels Sprouts, and Pearl Onions: A Study in Spheres

Ahhhh… meatballs.  Who doesn’t love a wee round wad of savory chopped steak?  Well – vegetarians and vegans, I suppose.  But if you’re an omnivore like me, then perhaps you too enjoy mouthfuls of meat bathed in silky brown creamy gravy.  If so, then this is the meal for you: meat and potatoes, fancified.  I was inspired by this picture, which is arguably more elegant and sophisticated and professional than mine, but I dare say my dinner was at least just as delicious.  I also added pearl onions – simply boiled, to release their natural sweetness – and some roasted brussels sprouts, which browned a little more than I wanted, but were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Wonderballs of pork, lamb, and veal, browned in butter, simmered in sauce, served with a coda of smooth whipped potatoes, a sprinkling of garden chives, and playing marbles with buds of brussels and teardrops of onions: a spherical, magical, delectable supper.

Swedish Meatballs, Brussels Sprouts, and Pearl Onions

4 medium/small yukon gold potatoes (about 1 lb)
6 pearl boiling onions
12 small brussels sprouts
1/2lb each ground lamb, ground veal, and ground pork
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 egg
2 slices white bread
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground white pepper
8 oz half & half – divided
flour
2 cups concentrated beef stock
sour cream (about 4 oz)
1/2 stick butter – divided
EVOO
sea salt and cracked black pepper

I start by boiling my spuds in salted water in a large saucepan, and my onions in salted water in a small saucepan – both set on my back burners.  The onions need about 20 minutes; the potatoes more like 40 – or until they are very easily pierced with a fork.

I dice my white onion and mince my garlic, before sweating them in 1 tbs of melted butter in my largest frying pan.  I season them with salt and pepper, and cook them over medium heat until fragrant and just translucent throughout.  I remove this from the heat, and allow to cool.

I roughly tear up my slices of white bread and toss them into a large bowl with my cracked egg, half of my half & half, my nutmeg, and some salt and pepper.

I blend this well, letting the bread fall apart in the milk and making sure the egg is fully mixed in.

With light, picking fingers, I gently pull apart my lamb, veal, and pork, dropping the bits into the bowl.  I add my caraway and fennel seeds…

… then I add my cooled down onion/garlic mix…

… then, using my hands and the lightest touch possible (the more I handle the meat, the more grainy it will become), I blend all the contents of the bowl thoroughly.  The final product is a disgusting wet pink and white meatwad.

Continuing to employ a light touch, I coax my big meatwad into about 36 small meatwads — each about the size of a walnut.

Along with my marbles of meat, I wanted the much maligned but equally spherical brussels sprout. I’d hoped it would add a flash of green to the plate, but I also wanted crunch (since my meatballs and potatoes and onions would be tender and creamy) — so I decided to roast them.  In retrospect, I should have steamed them first to capture the green, then roast them quickly to crisp the outer leaves – since the results of the choice I made resulted in very brown sprouts, but the flavor was just right regardless.

I trimmed their white wedge roots out, tossed them in an excellent EVOO, seasoned them with sea salt and pepper, and spilled them out on a baking sheet before putting them in my 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to roast.  Just enough time to…

… fry up my meatballs in batches in 2 tbs of hot browned butter.  I let each meatball brown fully on the 1st side I lay it on, then, using tongs, I flip each one over, allowing it to brown fully on that edge, before rolling them all in circles with the heat to maintain their roughly spherical shapes.

See?  After each  meatball is fully cooked, but still tender inside, I pull them off the heat and set them on a waiting plate lined with tin foil.  I admit, a couple of my first attempts fell apart.  And I also admit, we enjoyed taste-testing those mistakes.

Using the hot butter left in the pan, I add about 2 tbs of flour to the fat, whisking over high heat to brown and thicken to roux.  I then add my concentrated beef stock (this is a delightful demi-glace I splurged on at Whole Foods), continuing to whisk well, scraping up all the brown meaty bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  I allow this to simmer for about 3-4 minutes.

Using my fine-mesh strainer, I pour my sauce into a large bowl, removing the solids which I discard, before returning the liquids to the pan and low heat to simmer and thicken.

Sour cream whisked into this rich beef sauce  adds just the right tang and creaminess one wants from Swedish meatballs.  Ikea’s saucepack is really tasty – I admit it – but I wanted to make this from scratch tonight (if you forgive the purchased demi-glace), and I’m glad I did – this was a far more honest and hearty a flavor.  Sorry about the splatter, Clayton — I’ll fetch you some Clorox wipes from the closet if you need a refill.  I set my meatballs, and my boiled, peeled, and trimmed pearl onions into the pan, dousing them with ladles of sauce, allowing everything to heat through to steaming and screaming to be supped.

Using the last of my half and half and butter, I first mash then whip my potatoes into a creamy smooth puree that I pipe into a curlicue onto my plate with a modified zipper bag.  My meatballs and onions I lay lovingly spooning my spuds, and I blanket the whole family of flavors with my smooth creamy rich and silky light brown gravy.  Finally, I dot the plate with crisp roasted sprouts, sprinkled with salt and hiding tender green centers.  In the simple pleasures branch of gastronomy’s genealogy, meatballs have a pedigree all their own — what Sweden has to do with it, I’m not entirely sure, but I thank them for their take on these morsels of delight.  I hope they like what Lolita did to their tradition.

Swedish Meatballs, Brussels Sprouts, and Pearl Onions

Lolita’s Spaghetti and Meatballs

Why do I associate myself with Lolita, Nabokov’s adolescent femme fatale?  Do I have some affinity with her overt sexuality, her wanton abandon, her inadvertent attractiveness to inappropriate men?  No, in truth, I don’t.  But Nabokov… Nabokov I dig.  I dig him like I dig into a hearty plate of al dente noodles flanked by tender meaty balls.  I know that many people think one should not make meatballs unless one has a secret heirloom recipe, passed down by generations of grandmothers, through multiple rings on the family tree.  But just because I’m Puerto American shouldn’t mean that I shouldn’t get to enjoy a meal my mother, grandmother, or grandmother’s grandmother never made—it just means that I have to start my own taste tradition, and tonight, I started with this…

Ingredients:

½ lb each ground pork, ground lamb, ground veal, and ground beef (85% fat)
1 head garlic
2 eggs
one cup chopped parsley
1 white onion
2 cans San Marzano tomatoes – one crushed, one whole
EVOO
panko bread crumbs
shredded parmesano reggiano cheese
sea salt
cracked black pepper
spaghetti noodles

Red wine (not pictured, sorry!)
fennel seeds (not pictured, also sorry!)

Parsley: herb of the gods.  What does it do?  Nothing short of enhance the flavor of anything else you have on the plate!  Grab a healthy handful and chop it up nice and fine.  You need about 1 cup chopped parsley total…

… but you’ll only use about ½ of it in your meatball mix.  Add it to a large bowl with two eggs, some sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Here’s my miracle garlic mincer; I smash my cloves with the side of the puck (it looks like a hockey puck, doesn’t it?), and then put my peeled cloves in between its teeth.  With some vigorous screwing, I mince my garlic into perfect little bits.

See?

Add your minced garlic to your bowl with your chopped parsley and beaten eggs.  Now, using your fingers very deftly, pull each ½lb of meat into gentle wee pinches.  Be sure not to overhandle it!

Like so.

I’d forgotten about these fennel seeds, but am glad I remembered them now.  They are often my favorite taste in an Italian sausage, and I thought they’d be perfect for this blend.  Crush about a tablespoon into your meat mix.

Oh, and some crushed red pepper.  This ends up being necessary.

Add about 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs and 1 cup of fresh parmesano reggiano cheese, and mix well *but gently* **with your hands**.  You have to love your cooking… you really do.  If you’re afraid to use your hands to mix raw meat and eggs as loosely as only your hands can mix, make someone else do it, but for God’s sake don’t kill the textures of your meat with a wooden spoon.  A former friend once murdered Wagyu beef by squish smoosh mixing it with the flat of a wooden spoon, and I cried myself to sleep that night.

Set your meatball mix aside for a few minutes, and prep the rest of your garlic, parsley, and your white onion for use in your sauce.

Add a few glugs of EVOO to your Ikeawok, and heat to high.  Nice.

Add your garlic, some salt, and some cracked black pepper to your hot wok and stir well.  Breathe deeply… your house should start to smell like culinary heaven.

Add your onions to the pan, and cook until translucent

Add about 1 cup red wine to your pan, and reduce by half.

See?  Smells wonderful!

San Marzano tomatoes – why use anything else?  Most recipes, if made from a can, like I unfortunately must do this time of year, call for a can of tomato paste and a can of crushed tomatoes, but I cannot abide mixing plain old paste with the succulent perfection San Marzano tomatoes provide.  So, I dump a whole can of crushed…

… and the whole tomatoes, but not their juice, from the other can, into my Ikeawok.  With my merciless wooden paddle, I crush these baubles into pulp and mix well.  I se to simmer on low heat and cover with a splatter screen to protect my kitchen.

Did I mention Claytonious’s garden herb blend?  A lovely mixture of several types of basil and oregano, carefully dried and jarred in these airtight containers, make the perfect spice blend for tonight’s sauce.  I empty a handful into my fist and crush it in between my palms.

Your sauce should have begun to thicken.  Stir occasionally, but let simmer to sweetness as undisturbed as you can tolerate.

Ahhhh… balls of meat.  Using a tablespoon and your intrepid fingers, roll your 2 lbs of meat into 24 meatwads.  I have to pick out some of my stems of parsley to make sure they don’t make your balls too, er, loosely packed.

Heat a few tablespoons of EVOO in a heavy bottomed (or your only) large skillet.

Place your meatballs into your hot sizzling oil, searing them over their entire surface as much as you can.  You must let them brown on each edge for a few minutes, and you might need to use a spatula to scrape off the meaty bits from the pan if they stick.  You don’t need to cook them through, though, since you’re going to finish them off in your oven after you’ve browned them.

See?

Set your seared meatballs to the side on a cookie sheet, making way for another batch in your hot sizzling pan.  I have bits sticking to the pan, so a nonstick would have been ideal, but lacking that, I make do with scraping off the unstuck-from-my-meatballs-but-seared-cleanly-to-the-pan-bits and feeding them off an appetizer plate to a hungry Clayton, who has patiently been awaiting this dinner.

He’s ravenous.

You’ve nicely assembled your meatballs on your sheetpan, so for them to stay ball-like, throw them in a 400° oven to roast for about 10 minutes.

During which time, you should cook your pasta in boiling, salted, and EVOO’d oil.   Drop in your pasta, and set to cook for 10 minutes.

Here are your meatballs, and they are lovely.

And here is your sauce, all thick and ready to go.

Add your final teaspoons of chopped parsley to the mix, and break out your parmesan cheese once again for service.

Strain your pasta onto your plate, spoon your hot meatballs into symmetrical formation atop the nest, and slather the whole plate with thick, rich, tomatoey San Marzano tomato sauce, adding a final sprinkling of parmesan cheese and parsley to finish the dish.  Shia desperately attempts to reach across the threshold and transform the HD image of my food on his optical screen to real food in his movie-land world.  If you came to visit, my fine young friend, man oh man would I COOK for YOU, sweetie pie.  But, for now, the Fountainman is the onlyman who gets these goods…