Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Baked Meatballs

  With the cold weather of this time of year, hearty appetites are brought to the table.  One of the favorite recipes around our house is meatballs.  But honey, before you get the idea these are run of the mill balls o' meat, let me fill you in on a couple of things.  This is a slight tweaking of Alton Brown's recipe, and I got to say, these are a step up from the norm.  First thing that's different - they are baked.  To elevate them a bit more, they are baked in a mini muffin pan.  Why?  It keeps the meatballs from sitting in grease as they cook.  And then to ratchet it up a bit more, they are rolled in bread crumbs before they are baked.  When all these factors come together, you get a nice meatball with a slightly crisp exterior that is just wonderful to sink your teeth into.

Baked Meatballs
Approximately 20 meatballs; 5 servings

1 pound ground round (80/20 ground beef)
1/2 pound ground pork or pork sausage
10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup bread crumbs, divided (may need more)

  Here's a quick starter note - you can prep the meatball mixture up to 24 hours before you plan on baking them.  When you get ready to make these, preheat the oven to 400°F.

  In a large mixing bowl, add in the ground round, pork, spinach, Parmesan, egg, basil, parsley, garlic, salt, red pepper and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs.  With clean hands, combine everything thoroughly.  (If you are making the meatballs later, cover with plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator at this point.)   

  At this point, we are ready to form the meatballs.  Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs in a shallow bowl, and set aside.  Keep the bread crumbs out, because you may need a little more.

  I'm going to give you two ways of divvying up the meat to get even-sized meatballs.  Method 1 - Pat and Cut: On a clean surface, pat out the meat mixture into a rectangle that's about 1 inch thick.  Cut lengthwise across the middle, making 2 equal halves.  Repeat this cut on each half so that you have 4 even rows.  Then make 4 cuts width-wise, creating 5 equal columns.  You should now have 20 squares ready to be rolled into meatballs.  Method 2 - Scoop and Weigh:  With a spoon, scoop out some meat and weigh it on a kitchen scale.  You are shooting to make the meatballs 1 1/2 (1.5) ounces.  I wrap the removable top of my scale with plastic wrap before weighing out the meat to keep it from sticking, and well, to keep raw meat off the scale.

  Once the meat is portioned to the right size, roll the mixture into balls.  Then roll the meatball in the bread crumbs. Place the meatball in a cup of a miniature muffin tin.  Repeat until all the meatballs have been rolled and coated in bread crumbs.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through.  Serve with your favorite marinara and spaghetti noodles or slap them on your favorite hoagie buns and make meatball subs.

Helpful Hint - If you have a potato ricer laying around, it makes quick work of draining the thawed spinach.  Just load up the ricer and squeeze; you'll end up with nice, dry spinach that won't water down what you are making.

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