Bowl of Comfort: Ricotta Meatballs

It’s going around. That cold I had last week, yes, but that’s not what I meant. And not the financial stress we’re all feeling, nerves about the election, everything we have to get done for work—not that exactly, though maybe they’re related. What’s going around is the need for meatballs. See here. And here. Et cetera.

Rolling these little guys around in my two almost-perfectly-seasoned cast iron pans did make me feel a little better. (Those nearly-nonstick the-old-fashioned-way pans really do make me feel accomplished.) I spent the afternoon at the dentist, and despite the genuine friendliness of their new hygienist, it wasn’t what I’d call fun.

But getting Matt to join me in rolling tiny meatballs and simmering them in deep mushroomy soup was just the ticket. Adding a few good friends to our couch didn’t hurt.

I followed this recipe on a great blog I recently discovered, but couldn’t keep myself from making a few tweaks to use what I had on hand. Shitakes were expensive at the store, so I collected just a few of them along with 5 or so big portobello mushroom caps. I wanted a deep, earthy soup, and had a frozen puck of bison stock from the Farmer’s Market already around. After sautéing the mushrooms, I added the stock, some water (that stuff is pretty potent) and a can of chicken broth and let it simmer.

For the meatballs themselves, I opted out of veal (not popular in our crowd) and instead combined turkey, beef, and lamb. I used whole milk ricotta, but not the cream the recipe called for. Instead of parsley, I added assorted fresh herbs. It’s hard to know what you’re getting when you pick herbs from your balcony in the dark, but I ended up with a handful of basil, sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. It simmered, and then we ladled it all onto some gnocchi. The deep mushroom broth soaked into the meatballs and the gnocchi and we sat and drank and were together. We’re hoping for the best.

Ricotta Meatballs in Mushroom Pecorino Broth
Adapted from Bitchin Camero

Serves 4 or 5

1 pint strong beef/bison stock
1 pint water (or less if your stock isn’t strong)
1 can low salt chicken broth
1 Pecorino Romano cheese rind
1 tbsp. butter
5 shitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
5 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1/3 lb. ground sirloin
1/3 lb. ground lamb
1/3 lb. ground turkey
8 oz. ricotta cheese (I used whole milk because it was organic)
1/2 cup panko
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup + 1 T milk
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped
sprinkle each dried oregano and dried basil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour (any kind you have on hand)
3 tbsp. canola or olive oil
more cheese for grating

In a 6-quart dutch oven, sauté mushrooms in butter until fragrant and cooked. Pour in the stock and broth, and water, and add the cheese rinds. Stir, scraping any mushroom bits from the bottom of the pan, and let simmer.

While the broth simmers, make your meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the meat, panko, salt, pepper, milk, herbs and garlic. Mix everything together lightly, trying not to compact the meat.
Once everything is combined, place a large piece of waxed paper next to your workspace and put the flour on a plate. Roll the meatballs lightly in the palm of your hand—don’t make them too big. Then roll them in the flour. Place your meatballs on the waxed paper as you go.

When your meatballs are made, heat a large cast iron skillet (or two!). Once the pan is hot, add a bit of olive oil oil, then gently place the meatballs in the skillet, making sure the pan isn’t over-crowded. You want to work in batches here to make sure your meatballs brown evenly. Add more oil between batches.

When they’re browned on all sides, place the meatballs in the broth. Let the broth and meatballs simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Make gnocchi or pasta for serving.

Sprinkle individual portions with freshly grated pecorino.

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