6 Chef-Approved Meatball Recipes

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Craving a heaping helping of simple, comforting meatballs? Drop by The Meatball Shop in Manhattan’s East Village for the “Daily Ball,” possibly the Reuben Balls with Thousand Island dressing.

Or, if you’re not in the neighborhood, click on the Web site and meet the Meatball Smash, two meatballs mashed on a brioche bun, and the daintier Meatball Slider, billed giddily as “three bites of sheer ecstasy, then they’re gone forever.” In another dish, called Everything But The Kitchen Sink Salad, meatballs are plopped on the chef’s selection of greenmarket veggies and lettuces—this is presumably for those on a diet.

Meatballs have rolled right into the spotlight. For reasons that won’t be explored here, they tend to be a guy chef kind of thing, but there’s often a grandmother in the picture.

“Everybody has some kind of good memory associated with meatballs,” says Chef Greg Hardesty of Recess in Indianapolis. “Every culture has a meatball and a sandwich made from a meatball, whether it’s wrapped in pita bread or a grape leaf.”

If you think about it, Hardesty makes a good point. There are Swedish meatballs in creamy gravy, spicy goat meat kofta from India, Lebanese ground beef and wheat bulgur kibbeh in yogurt-garlic sauce, oversized lion’s head pork meatballs (a Shanghai dish cooked with greens in a clay pot), tiny meatballs in a Neapolitan wedding soup, or fat ones floating in a brothy cilantro-scented Vietnamese pho. Meatballs happen to be hot right now, but they’re too good and too steeped in culinary tradition to ever go out of style.

The phenomenon is due in part to meatballs’ role as a practical (and delicious) way to use up humble meat scraps and fat. Perhaps meatballs deserve to share in the old wisecrack about sausage making and politics—the less you know about the process, the more you respect it. These days, however, discriminating chefs and cooks take pride in their meatball grind.

“The idea with the nose-to-tail movement is to select an animal that has been raised properly and then use it all,” says Hardesty. Chefs boast about the pedigree of the beef, lamb or pork used in their meatballs, while makers of frozen gourmet meatballs tout “all-natural” and additive-free ingredients.

Not surprisingly, red wines are recommended most often to stand up to the fat and full flavors of meatballs—Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Syrah are highly recommended to pair with the recipes that follow. At the Absinthe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco, Executive Chef Adam Keough serves spicy rabbit meatballs that Wine Director Ian Becker recommends pairing with Montesecondo 2007 Chianti Classico: “The rustic tannins, savory red fruit tones and vibrant acidity of this very traditional Chianti Classico create a classic pairing,” he says.

At Prime Italian in Miami, softball-sized Kobe meatballs stuffed with sausage and ricotta find a perfect match in the EnRoute 2009 Les Pommiers Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. The wine’s elegant flavor and soft hints of cherry—not too big or bold—bring together the flavors of the dish.

White wines can come into play—but only when the “meat” is foregone. At Recess in Indianapolis, Hardesty serves ginger- and garlic-accented baby octopus meatballs with creamy hoisin vinaigrette, with which he suggests a white Burgundy, specifically Daniel Barraud 2008 La Verchère Vieilles Vignes Pouilly-Fuissé. “It has a nice minerality and citrus notes, just the right foil for the bold, fatty flavor of the octopus balls,” he says. Another favorite choice is Weingut Allram 2008 Strasser Gaisberg Riesling from Austria.

Start your own meatball medley, or expand your traditional repertoire with these great recipes for the meat lovers and vegetarians in your life.

—Toni Lydecker

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6 Chef-Approved Meatball Recipes

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