And off the grill

Just walk out the door…

Enamored as I am with the ability to walk out onto my terrace and grill, I want to grill EVERYTHING.
I’ve been thinking about meatballs, but that seems like a cool weather thing — not August in the high desert — but loving meatballs as I do, I got some ground beef at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

Why not do meatballs on the grill? My swell grill pan should make that possible, at least on the no-stick front.

My recipe files produced only one recipe suitable — Marlena Spieler’s Big Meatballs, but those are kind of boring. The others are braised, rather than fried or broiled. Better to adapt something from meatloaf. I spied two major candidates:
K-Paul Cajun Meatloaf and Sam Sifton’s Fancy Meatloaf (NYT) that he made for Nora Ephron.

The very next day the RGJ (Reno Gazette Journal, a pretty good local rag) published “Make It Easy: Meatloaf burgers look ahead to Labor Day”. How’s that for timing? The recipe is eerily similar to K-Paul meatloaf, using cooked onion and green bell peppers, lots of good spices and ketchup. I decided to go with the RGJ version; see what it’s like.

And since I still have some caul fat in the freezer, I’ll just make some of the burgers as crepinettes. I’m using grass fed Angus ground beef from Hole-in-One Ranch and that is very lean, so I substituted 1/4 pound of ground pork for that amount of beef.

Here it is, mixed up and ready to be wrapped.

The meatloaf mixture is a bit loose and moist, but certainly formable. I wrapped 4 burgers and made two plain patties, put them in the refrigerator overnight to rest and get their act together.

The next day, I got the grill going, unwrapped two crepinettes and two plain meatloaf burgers.

Ready for grilling…

I used my grill pan for its non stick qualities. Once the grill was pre-heated, I turned off the center burner and turned the outside burner to medium. They took about 15 minutes to cook to 135°F.

Grill and grill pan and meatloaf burgers

We served on a toasted English muffin with a tomato and cucumber salad. They tasted very good, a little on the spicy side as I used Heinz Spicy Hot Ketchup. I liked ‘em. On the texture side, they were a bit mooshy, as predicted… this was a put-off for Carol.

Grilled meatloaf burgers served.

Saturday, I cooked the other two “Crepinette Meatloaf Burgers.” I was much less aggressive with the heat, pre-heating only on medium and then turning off the center burner entirely about half way through pre-heat. They still cooked in about 15 minutes to 135°F.

The remaining meatloaf burgers, and some thick zucchini and red onion slices

Daggone good… but still mooshy a bit. While at it, I cooked some thick onion slices and zucchini. Yum.
Next time — and there will be a next time — I’ll correct the mooshyness and serve with a little more care. (The recipe follows.)

From the balls to the grill exercise, I had about 3/4 pounds of ground pork and 1/4 pound of ground beef left… just right for Joyce Goldstein’s Sardinian Meatballs, one of my favorites. It doesn’t hurt that Reno cooled a bit from the unusually hot hundreds to the elegant eighties. Slaving over a hot stove will be just fine. I got this recipe in 2006 and have made it more than a few times since.

Meatballs ready to braise… the tomato sauce is bubbly and cooked down a bit.

The whole thing is pretty simple, pork meatballs with a nice amount of grated hard cheese, parsley and breadcrumbs, using egg as a binder. These are slowly braised in tomato sauce.

The braising of the balls…

I throw a couple twistys, of course. I like to put a little bit of beef in, just as I like to put a little pork in my beef meatballs. Second, I use my home canned tomato sauce, in this case, a quart of Georgeanne Brennan’s roasted heirloom tomato sauce using Orange Blossom tomatoes.

How were they? As good as I remembered them, for sure. And I had enough left over to anchor a few lunches. But here, I’m more interested in the way they were served — the accompaniments that can turn “the last time” into a brand new experience — especially, since I wrote about these very same balls in mid 2011.

The haricot verts resting on the left, the pureed beans and the braised balls.

It is the season for fresh Haricot Vert, and they are prepared just as simple as they look. Trim and steam, add a vinaigrette, a chopped tomato, and toss while they are hot. They can rest and cool a bit while you assemble the rest of your dinner.

Joyce Goldstein says to “serve with mashed potatoes or spaghetti.” I have done both of those things. On this day, I had 4 cups of cooked Italian Butter Beans from Iacopi Farm I had made for “a future meal with something.” Today is the day. Instead of mashed potatoes, I decided to do a puree of beans.

“I put a pot of beans on every Sunday to eat throughout the week. The aromas wafts through my apartment, a mix of sweet earthiness with the spice of chiles. A few warm tortillas to scoop up the beans, creamy avocado and a decadent swirl of sour cream, or Mexican crema if I have it, make for a perfect dinner.

Once the beans are cooked, the options are endless. Strain off some of the liquid and blend the beans in a food processor with cumin, chipotle, lemon juice and olive oil. You’ll have a great topping for bruschetta, with a pile of sauteed greens on top.”

Excerpted from “Beans make the perfect housewarming dish.” by Amanda Berne, Wednesday, February 27, 2008 SF Chronicle

I drained my 4 cups of beans, catching the liquid in a bowl. I whirled about two cups in the blender, and added back liquid until I got a mashed potato consistency. Seasoned and tasted: Yum. I repeated with the balance of the beans, mixed them together and served under the Sardinian Meatballs. Damn good.

Balls on beans (pureed) beside beans (green).


Make It Easy: Meatloaf burgers look ahead to Labor Day
Because they’re patties, meatloaf burgers require only a fraction of the cooking time of traditional meatloaf baked in a pan. / Jennifer Bushman/For the RGJ

Meatloaf takes about an hour of baking. These burgers contain all the textures and flavors of meatloaf, but because they’re patties, they cook up in about five minutes per side — just what you need to make your late summer barbecue proceed a little easier.

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for brushing
2/3 cup finely diced onion (from about 1/2 large onion)
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (from about 1/2 medium pepper)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound lean ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten with fork
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 Kaiser rolls
Lettuce and sliced tomato and onion, to serve

Preheat grill on medium for 10 minutes. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy medium-size skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Add onion, green pepper, salt, cayenne, thyme, pepper and cumin and cook until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Cool.
Combine beef, egg, bread crumbs, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in medium bowl. Stir in cooled vegetables, mixing until well combined. Form mixture into 6 equal patties.
Grill over direct medium heat until internal temperature reaches 160 F for medium, about 5 minutes per side. Brush buns on cut side with butter.
About 2 minutes before burgers are done, lay buns on hot grill, cut side down, and grill until light brown. Remove hamburgers and buns from grill. Serve with lettuce, tomato and onion.
Makes 6 burgers.

Joyce Goldstein’s Sardinian Meatballs
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup dried or 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 eggs
6 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 3/4 cups canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup water

1. In a bowl, combine the pork, bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper and mixed together until smooth. Form the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter.

2. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and water, mix well, and then add the meatballs.

3. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes or spaghetti.


One thought on “BALLS TO THE GRILL

  1. I’ve found that one of the keys to making meatballs with a non-mooshy middle is to mix them like dough. This is best done in a standup mixer with the paddle attachment at a cold temperature (i.e. meat just out of the fridge). If the meat is too warm the fat will liquify and the protein strands can’t stick to each other. Throw your recipe in the mixer, and mix for a few minutes until the stuff comes together like dough. If you don’t have a mixer, use your hands and you will feel the batter starting to stick together, and the color of the mix will start to lighten as everything is homogenized. The resulting texture is FIRM and can stand up to any amount (and type) of cooking, plus freezing and reheating.


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