The Perfect Meatball


(4.8/5, 6 votes)

These perfect meatballs with pork and veal are influenced by the Mediterranean areas of Southern France and Italy as well as North Africa.


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


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.