I think there is something so humble about the meatball. Sure, you can dress it up, but it still comes across as unassuming. You can find the meatball perched atop a big mound of pasta, swimming in a brothy bowl of soup, or snuggled inside a crusty bun. There are teeny tiny meatballs and there are meatballs the size of a softball. From the usual suspects made from beef or pork or veal to their paler cousins made from chicken and turkey to the buoyant balls of shrimp or fish, the meatball instills comfort in many forms.
These particular balls resemble a football (not in size, but in form). They emanate the earthy, primal scent of cumin and they are bathed in deep, red tomatoes. Yet they are soft, moist, and almost delicate. Whether eaten on a bed of chewy, nutty brown rice right away or gently reheated and tucked inside some thick, comforting bread to make a sandwich later, they are a comfort and a delight to the taste buds. It's always the quiet ones that surprise you. The humble meatball.
Cumin Meatballs in Tomato
adapted slightly from Food from Many Greek Kitchens
3½ oz. (~3 slices) crustless bread, torn up
¾ c. milk
13 oz. ground beef
12 oz. ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbs. Italian parsley, chopped
3 garlic cloves (2 minced, 1 whole)
freshly ground black pepper
7 Tbs. olive oil, divided
2 (14 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes (or use whole and crush in your hands)
½ c. red wine
Place bread in a small bowl, cover with milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes to soak and soften. In another bowl put ground meats, egg, cumin, parsley, and minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze excess milk out of bread and add it to the beef. Mix everything very well using your hands. Form into elongated meatballs, ~1¾ oz. each. Line them up on a tray.
Heat 3 Tbs. of the oil in a nonstick pot, add the whole clove of garlic, and when it begins to smell good, add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, put the lid on and simmer for 10 minutes or so, pressing on any big chunks as well as you can.
Heat remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet with a lid. Add the soutzoukakia (the skillet should be big enough that they all just fit). Cook until golden all over, gently turning with tongs or a thin spatula. When they look gently browned, add the wine and cook until it reduces, 5-6 minutes. Scrape the tomato sauce over the meatballs and bring to a gentle boil.
Put on the lid, lower the heat and simmer for ~20 minutes. Move the skillet around a few times to make sure nothing is sticking. In the end, there should still be a good amount of sauce for spooning over the meatballs.
Serve with rice, mashed potatoes, or french fries.
Our theme at IHCC this week is Peasant Food.