(This is recipe #2 of "manly" recipes I promised to post for my friend Geoff. You'll love these, Geoff - I promise!)
A few years ago there was an internet fad I called “Share Your Recipes with Strangers and They’ll Share Theirs with you!” When I received my first invitation (send a recipe to the first person on the list and then send the original e-mail to 10 friends who love to cook so they could send it on to 10 friends, etc.), I couldn’t believe my luck.
I did exactly as requested, and promptly received an e-mail from my Brother who said he wasn’t wasting his time partaking in this because after all of that work, he would probably only receive one recipe back. I dismissed him as a tainted skeptic.
The tainted skeptic turned out to be spot on – except I received TWO recipes back. One was for some slamming biscuits in sausage gravy from my Cousin Camille (thanks again, Darlin'!), and another from someone I did not know (which, I suppose, was the point, right?).
The second recipe was for meatballs stuffed with ricotta cheese, and the introductory paragraph said the recipe contributor “visited Apizz” every time she came to NYC because they were the best meatballs in the world. She even bought the chef’s book!
The chef’s BOOK? Meatballs stuffed with ricotta? In New YORK? How could I not know about this?
So I jumped onto Google, and up came the website for Apizz Restaurant in Manhattan. The restaurant looked very gorgeous, very appealing, and – upon scouring the menu – the home of the ricotta-stuffed meatball.
So I next hit Amazon, and a few days later “A Man & His Meatballs, The Hilarious but True Story of a Self-Taught Chef and Restaurateur” by John LaFemina (with Pam Manela) arrived, and I hungrily (pardon the pun) flipped through it and placed it on my bookshelf for later use.
Fast forward to three weeks ago, when I began searching in earnest for “manly” recipes for my friend Geoff. I happily sat and enjoyed a great read. I mean it: for any foodie who has thought of opening their own restaurant, this is a fun ride.
Not only is the story itself enjoyable (and hysterical), the book comes with 75 recipes, one of which is – yup! - “Veal, Beef, and Pork Meatballs with Ricotta Filling”.
Come to Mama!
This is apparently the restaurant’s signature dish, so I did what everyone about to try a new recipe should do first: I read through the entire thing before I started the dish.
Chef John of Apizz (if you read the book, you’ll find out how he – a former New York City jeweler - became not only a restaurateur, but a self-taught chef) writes that when he was a kid, he felt that every time he ate pasta with meatballs, he felt that the pasta was a “garnish” to the meatballs. He therefore wanted to devise a recipe where meatballs could stand on their own, served without pasta. Dear Readers, the man hit this recipe out of the park!
I have followed this, his recipe, to the letter with the only exception of making the meatballs, cooling them and storing them in the fridge to be stuffed and finished the next day. (Mine was a marathon cooking day, and Chef John advises in his book that after the meatballs are first baked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Doing that made the last steps to this recipe incredibly easy.)
So Geoff, my manly friend, here is recipe number two of my manly recipes; courtesy of John LaFemina and Apizz in New York City. Enjoy!
Veal, Beef, and Pork Meatballs with Ricotta Filling (Recipe by John LaFemina)
For the meatballs:
• 3 cups cubed crustless filone or regular Italian bread (about ½ loaf)
• 1 pound ground veal
• 1 pound ground beef
• 1 pound ground pork
• 1 egg
• ½ onion, chopped
• ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
• ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
• 1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• Pinch of oregano
• Salt and black pepper to taste
• 2 cups basic tomato sauce
For the stuffing:
• 1 cup ricotta cheese
• ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• 1½ teaspoons salt
• Black pepper to taste
To finish the meatballs:
• 1 cup basic tomato sauce
• ½ cup ricotta cheese
• ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
To make the meatballs, preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Run the cubed bread under water and gently squeeze out the excess liquid. Put the bread in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining meatball ingredients to the bowl, except for the tomato sauce, and mix well with your hands. Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions. Using your hands, roll each portion into a large round meatball, about the size of an apple. Place the meatballs in a medium to large baking dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the tomato sauce and 2 cups water. Spoon the tomato sauce and water mixture over the meatballs until the liquid comes three-quarters of the way up (if more liquid is needed, add water). Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake the meatballs for 1 hour, turning the dish after 30 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven, drain and discard the liquid, and let the meatballs cool to room temperature. (The meatballs can also be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
To make the stuffing, in a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with the Parmigiano, salt, and pepper.
Using an apple corer or small knife, core out a hole to the bottom of the meatball that is about ½ inch in diameter. Fill the hole with the cheese mixture (for best results, use a pastry bag).
(Lori’s note #1: After stuffing the meatballs, I covered the bottom of my baking dish with a small amount of tomato sauce mixed with water, and placed the meatballs on the liquid before continuing on. Chef John’s recipe does not call for this, but I remember an unfortunate incident my Mom had with one of her lasagnas; let’s just say that incident stayed with me forever, and I wanted to be absolutely certain the meatballs would not stick to the bottom of the baking dish.)
To finish, spoon 1 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the meatballs and heat for 10 to 15 minutes at 350⁰F. (Lori’s note #2: since I had refrigerated my meatballs overnight, I brought them to room temperature for an hour or so, and increased their cooking time in the oven by 10 minutes to be sure they were heated through. This worked well, as these are dense meatballs.) Remove the pan from the oven. Place 1 tablespoon of ricotta cheese on top of each meatball (it should look like the cheese is oozing out of the center), sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese, and heat for an additional 3 minutes.
This recipe makes 8 to 10 servings.