Oh dear. Oh dear. Gather up guys, because do I have a funny story for ya. (Am I gonna tell you how my old layout dumped me on a post-it?)… No, I don’t want to talk about that asshole. (Awww, meatball’s going to tell us how you and him first met!)… NO! This isn’t Hallmark either. If we haven’t been properly introduced, this is more of a place… where my enthusiasm goes to die after too much saturated reality has popped its arteries (see my angry new banner?). But HEY! Back to that story…
So imagine this, a few nights ago (well, it was more like 4:30 am) when I was about to drift away into sweet dreams of a blue-sky day in Beijing, a nerve-wrecking sound instantly popped my eyes wide open. “Beep beep beep…” going on and on in the darkness. What the H… wait, what is tha… is that the SMOKE DETECTOR in the kitchen?! People! Smoke detector going off in the middle of the night! It’s time to get freaked out! But instead, I turned and poked the man of the house like how you would to a suspiciously dead-looking body, “hey… the smoke alarm is going off…” (zzzz……). Al’right… So I got up and tip-toed nervously to open the bedroom door and stuck my neck out for a peak, very cautiously… (you know, just in case it was a burglar or something…)(then again why would a burglar set off the smoke alarm to give us a heads-up…)(Yes, my mind went from smoke detector → burglar… beats me, too).
It didn’t even take me seconds to realize what was causing all this midnight excitement. Fire? No, but the entire living room was permeated with a thick stench of plastic ~FUME~. If you don’t know what that smells like, throw a trash bag on an open flame and take a deep sniff… I’m kidding, guys. Do that after I’m done with the story. It’s me time. So by then Jason had finally arised from the
dead sleep and did what husbands do best, took a manly patrol of the apartment, decisively moved the air purifier into the bedroom, took a wee-wee, kissed me on the forehead and… zzz. Aww… what I’d do without him? Although I was secretly screaming “HELP MEH~~” inside, I had no choice but to force myself back to sleep with literally breath that was abated…
If I were in any other sensible country with sensible citizens, I’d dig to the bottom of this when I wake up right? But if I learnt anything about living in Beijing it’s that the road to emotional hell (the hair-plucking kind) is paved with sensible questions. I felt cornered. This was no doubt a situation that called for my EMERGENCY comfort-food, my secret stash - GIANT meatballs braised in white wine. Yes, white. Not red and it’s nothing short of a God (disguised as Mario Batali)-sent recipe to ease all thy suffering souls. Thanks to a very foreseeing reader (Laura hi!) whom I now know was an angel passing by, asked me what my favorite winter recipe was and thus I had it in mind on my last trip to the market. Because let’s just say a taxi ride at this point wouldn’t do constructive things to my mental health either. That night, Jason and I had our wounded souls (and respiratory system) properly pampered with this insanely nourishing dinner. As the meatballs melted in my mouth, I could hear my own thoughts saying “Oh, this is good…” (Why the hell am I doing in this piece of s…) “Mmmm boy, this is REALLY goooood…” (Damn it, I swear to God if we didn’t move by…) ”HOLY MOLLY I should make this more often!” (Argh… thzz place sucks…) “YUMMM! I want another one!” (Tsst…err… mmmm).
* For the curious few: a few days later I finally found out that the plastic ~FUME~ came from the new (the “VERY health-standard approved” kind that would set off a smoke detector) paint they applied to the mechanical-room down in the basement. And to help it “disperse quickly” (as delivered in a very proud and ”wasn’t it clever” kinda tone), they decided to blow it through the air-circulation system into the entire building… Sheer genius….
Servings: 4 dinner servings/ 8 lunch servings
You won’t believe how great this is. It was a dish I had in Lupa in the West Village many years ago and have made it numerous times throughout the years. The recipe (which was referrenced from Babbo’s old online recipe archive) calls for diced prosciutto fat that they accumulate in the restaurant from trimming the prosciutto. It gives the meatballs another level of succulence and flavor. You could go to your local deli and ask for the trimmings that they normally discard anyways.
Ingredients: UPDATE: 2013/01/30: Thanks to a dear reader, I reaized I forgot to include 1 egg in the ingredient list!
- Meatball mixture:
- 500 g of ground beef (don’t use lean… a 75% would be ideal)
- 500 g of ground pork (again… not lean… ground pork-butt would be ideal)
- 400 g of ground chicken (I grounded 1 whole boneless chicken leg, skin-on)
- 80 g of prosciutto fat, diced.
- 1/3 cup of grated Parmigiano cheese
- 1 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumb
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp of corn starch
- 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper
- 5 tbsp of whole milk
- 1 1/2 tsp of salt
- To braise:
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 small carrot, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 2 fresh or 4 dry bay leaves
- 1 bottle of dry white wine
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 2″ x 2 ” of Parmigiano cheese rind
- To finish:
- 2 large leeks or spring garlic, sliced into thin strips
- 1 tsp of butter
- 3~4 drops of white wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 loaf of baguette or crusty bread
Preheat the oven on 500ºF/230ºC.
Chop the onion and garlic in a food processor until very fine (or by hand but… wear a goggle). Dice the prosciutto fat into 1/8″ (3mm) cubes (freezing the fat in the freezer until hard would make this much easier). In a big bowl, combine ground beef, ground pork, ground chicken, prosciutto fat, Parmigiano cheese, panko breadcrumbs, egg, onion, garlic, corn starch, black pepper, white pepper, milk and salt until evenly mixed. The best way to do this is by hand. Form the mixture into 8 giant mealballs, or 10 smaller meatballs. “Toss” the meatballs back and forth in between two hands to firm it up as it pushes out the air inside the mixture.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly space the meatballs on the sheet. Bake in the oven until nicely browned on all sides, approx 20~25 min.
In another large dutch oven (or I’m using pressure cooker), saute the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme and bay leaves in 1 tbsp of oil for 5 min. It doesn’t matter what shapes and sizes these vegetables are because I strain them out at the end. Once the meatballs are done browning in the oven, transfer them carefully with into the pot. Add the white wine and chicken, and 1 piece of Parmigiano cheese rind (I always keep mine in the freezer from used up Parmigiano). Season it with salt and pepper (don’t over do it because the stock will reduce and become saltier).
Reduce the oven temperature down to 320ºF/160ºC. Cover the pot and bake in the oven for 2 hours (or it will only take 45 min in a pressure cooker). You may need to CAREFULLY move the meatballs from time to time to prevent sticking.
Once done, I like to move the meatballs to a serving dish and strain the cooking liquid. This is when I skim off a little bit of excess fat on the top, and re-season it with maybe more salt or black pepper.
I like to saute some leeks in butter with some white wine vinegar and salt’n pepper to go with it, but it is totally optional.
Serve the meatballs with toasted baguette, or rustic bread. You would want to have left-overs of this because it just gets better the next day, which would be hard to believe when you take the first bite. But it does…