It’s not always easy to tell someone how you feel about them. It’s even harder when you’re being honest. Contrary to what one might expect, it might be hardest when it’s someone you love.
That’s why one day a year, we don’t have to tell them and instead, we’re given the opportunity to show those closest to us how much we appreciate them. While for some, it’s birthdays, and for other’s anniversaries, in this case I was lucky enough to be able to host my my parents, for an incredible Mother’s Day dinner.
I’d recently received The Mozza Cookbook as a gift, and was itching to give some of the recipes a shot. First on the agenda: The World Famous Mozza Meatballs. Now I’ll be honest, I picked up a burger recipe several years ago that I’ve transformed a bit and have been using for both burgers and meatloaf ever since, so I was a bit skeptical given all the praise that surrounded these particular beefy little meat orbs. As I dug into the recipe, however, I realized it wasn’t all that different.
The meatballs themselves are made from ground beef, ground pork, and minced pancetta, with flat leaf parsley, garlic, and onion holding down the aromatic front. Grated parmesan and red pepper flakes add some seasoning to the mix while milk soaked bread crumbs and a couple eggs take care of texture and structural rigidity. The most interesting part of the recipe in my mind, is the flower dredge, which I’d not seen in other recipes, that really seemed to help brown the meat and thicken the sauce. After the meatballs had finished braising, it was time to taste…
WOW! Really. Let me say that backwards. WOW! Let me say that upside down. MOM! Let me say that upside down and backwards. MOM!
Really – they were that good. I’m not sure if it was the recipe or the high quality ingredients (including meat from my local high-end butcher and imported italian San Marzanos), but these things really came together perfectly. Light (well, as light as a meatball can really be expected to be), yet rich. Spicy, but not so spicy as to overpower and mask the depth of flavor. These meatballs defied reason, and I’m not to proud to admit that two days later, when finishing the last ball of the leftovers, I felt a rare feeling of accomplished loss that historically I’ve only felt when finishing a long, well written novel.
Meatballs al Forno
Adapted from The Mozza Cookbook
3/4 cup finely diced day-old crustless bread
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cup parmesan finely grated (6 oz.)
1/2 large yellow onion minced
2/3 cup finely chopped italian parsley
2 extra large eggs
4 cloves garlic minced
3 tbs red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 lbs ground pork (butt)
1 lbs ground veal
6 1/2 oz pancetta minced
all purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 quart passata di pomodoro
1 quart chicken stock
3 dried bay leaves
3 dried arbol chilies
Passata di Pomodoro
2 28 oz cans San Marzanos
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
To make the passata di pomodoro, puree the tomatoes in a food processor along with salt, pepper, and sugar. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add puree and cook until it thickens.
For the meatballs, soak the bread crumbs in the milk for a few minutes as you combine the veal, pork, pancetta, parmesan, onion, parsley, eggs, pepper flakes, and black pepper in a large bowl. Gently fold in the bread crumbs being careful not to overwork as it can lead to ‘heavy’ meatballs. After forming the meatballs, dredge in flour and chill for at least an hour to allow them to set. Brown in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Combine the passata di pomodoro, chicken broth, bay leaves, and chilies in a dutch oven, add the meatballs, and braise at 350 for one hour.
While I would have been content to finish what must have been four pounds of combined meatballs and sauce, and perhaps never eat anything else ever again, there were more courses to come, and next up was the fresh ricotta and egg ravioli with brown butter.
Overall I was pretty pleased with the dish, particularly as it marked several firsts for me. It was the first time I’d made pasta, and in fact, the first time I’d ever used a stand mixer. It was also the first time I’d had brown butter, which as far as I can tell is butter that went on a nice long vacation to a far, tropical location, and came back better, with a nice deep tan and new outlook on life. Energized and ready to work on new solutions to old problems…and work it did. The butter added a deep, smooth, nutty flavor that mixed perfectly with the richness of the egg yolk after cutting into the raviolo. The nutmeg served as an additional focal point for the palate as the pasta and ricotta were a textural one-two punch.
Raviolo filling – ricotta parm cream nutmeg
If you’re going to try to make these, I’d offer a couple of tips. First, they need to be made fresh, preferably the day you’re planning to serve them, as they don’t keep well at all. The few uncooked ravioli that were stored in the fridge collapsed somewhat, and were not particularly appetizing two days later. Second, make sure you have plenty of flower on hand when working with the pasta dough as it is incredibly sticky. If you’re like me and don’t happen to have a pasta roller attachment for your KitchenAid, don’t worry, a rolling pin works just fine, however you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t use enough flower, and the center of one of the pasta sheeta sticks to your surface just as you reach the desired thickness.Fresh Ricotta and Egg Ravioli in Brown Butter
Fresh Ricotta and Egg Ravioli with Brown Butter
Adapted from The Mozza Cookbook
2 1/4 cups flour
3 extra large eggs
6 extra large egg yolks
1 lbs ricotta
3/4 cup parmesan
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp nutmeg
3 tablespoons heavy cream
6 ego yolks (or 1 per raviolo you intend to make)
1 1/2 cups butter
18 fresh sage leaves
While the process for the ravioli is a bit more complex as described in the book, the basic steps are to mix the dough ingredients with a paddle attachment on low in a stand mixer until it comes together. About 5 minutes. Switch to a hook attachment and mix until it forms a ball. Remove and knead by hand for half an hour or so until the dough becomes elastic.
Combine the ingredients for the filling. I found that significantly more cream was required to get the filling to the ‘soft serve ice cream’ texture recommended in the book. Separate the eggs. Once you have sheets of pasta at your desired thickness, lay over parchment and cut approximately 4″ by 4″ squares of dough and parchment (Nancy recommends the thinnest setting on a KitchenAid, but I chose simply to make it as thin as possible without losing structure). Build small pucks of filling on top of one sheet of dough and use the back of a spoon to make a small indentation on top of the pucks to hold the egg yolks. After placing a yolk on the filling pucks, cover with another sheet of dough, spread a thin film of reserved egg white, and seal by cupping your hands and pressing the top sheet of dough down around the puck with the sides of your hands. When you’re ready to cook, use the parchment to add the ravioli to a large deep pot of salty boiling water for about 4 minutes. The parchment makes it significantly easier to handle the ravioli, and will separate and be easy to remove once it hits the water. Add butter and sage leaves to a sauce pan over medium heat and brown. Careful. It blackens quickly. Plate, cover with brown butter and parmesan, and top with a sage leaf (not pictured).
Finally, it was time for MORE protein, this time in the form of grilled beef tagliata. I’ve never been a fan of hanger steak after a bad experience with ‘ghetto sous vide’ from the Momofuku book a while back, and is a pretty odd cut. Hanger steak is actually the part of the diaphragm that hangs between the rib and the loin, and there’s only one per cow. It’s long, thin, and depending on where you get it, may or may not have sliverskin that you have to remove. Typically these steaks are done with a marinade as they can dry out fairly easily, so I chose to let the marinade sink in over night. Why choose hanger steak? If you’d asked me while prepping everything, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a good ansewr, but I chose to put my trust in Nancy Silverton, and give it another shot.
I was not displeased with my decision.
There was not a single thing I disliked about this recipe. Aesthetically it was beautiful with a dark, almost black exterior giving way to a bright red center. I realized after making the dish, that while hanger isn’t the least expensive cut (though certainly less than some of the prized rib cuts), you typically get a nice thick slab, which allows for control over the level of doneness. This is a great feature as you can make a perfect medium rare $8 piece of meat rather than buying a $30 cut to get the same thickness. Of course doneness doesn’t mean a thing without flavor and texture, but happily, neither was an issue with this recipe.
As far as notes go, I have only two here, the first of which is to go to Amazon and pick up an inexpensive digital instant-read thermometer. These things are absolutely fantastic and only run about $10. Remember that you can enter through the side of the cut with your probe aligned lengthwise to get a perfect center temp reading. Just remember not to go too far or you’ll end up serving what looks to be kabob meat.
The second tip is simply to cut on an extreme bias across the grain. It looks far nicer than small, strange meat oblongs that resemble duck more than beef.
Grilled Beef Tagliata
Adapted from The Mozza Cookbook
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup fresh rosemary needles
8 whole cloves of garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs hanger or flank steak
condiment grade balsamic
high quality finishing olive oil
Combine the balsamic, rosemary, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the olive oil and pulse until an emulsion forms. Marinate the steaks in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour. When you’re ready to grill them, remove and discard marinade. Season with about 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat and cook on high heat for 6 – 8 minutes per side for medium rare. I typically let steaks rest for about half the cook time, so give them 6 or so minutes loosely covered with foil. Pepper to taste, slice and serve.
I followed Nancy’s recipe, and served the steak alongside arugula dressed in lemon vinaigrette with thin sliced parmesan, however I wasn’t too big a fan of the dressing. For my money, you still can’t beat Dave Chang’s sherry dressing used on his cherry tomato and tofu salad,
The meal concluded with a Torta Della Nonna, a strawberry rhubarb crostata, and a strawberry rhubarb crisp – all of which were delicious, though none of which were made by me. Perhaps we’ll have a guest post detailing them in the future.
After the guests left with what I hope were full bellies and fuller hearts, I finished what they started; a bottle of Lagavulin Distiller’s edition. Well, I didn’t actually finish it, but I certainly enjoyed a small glass as I reflected on the evening and work I’d put into it. Putting all this together took a solid couple of days. From stops at Guerra Quality Meats, Parkside Farmers Market, Lucca Ravioli, Andronico’s, and Kamei Restaurant Supply, to a late Saturday night listening to sports talk radio and Coast to Coast AM as I made meatballs until 3 AM, putting the meal together took a lot of time. When cooking for others, however, time in the kitchen is time well spent in my book as I believe the time and love put into making a meal for those you love comes through in the flavors, and this Mother’s Day was just one more proof point.