Meatballs al Forno

Meatball lovers, we can all unite around this one.  It’s a Tyler Florence recipe, and I believe he got this one right.  We’re talking about the tenderest meatball imaginable, topped with a tasty tomato/mushroom sauce, which is then blanketed with a lovely cheese coverlet and baked to glorious melty goodness.  But it doesn’t end there.  Oh, no.  Now we’re going to sit these cheesy meatballs on a creamy pillow of polenta and drip that sauce down over the edges of everything and oh yeah, he definitely got this one right.

Well, mostly.  He mostly got it right.  I have to admit to having some issues with this recipe.  The very first ingredient Tyler calls for is ½ baguette.  How big a baguette?  ½ a baguette could be 3 cups of bread or 1 cup of bread.  He calls for ½ bunch of fresh parsley…how big a bunch??  ½ bunch of basil…well, you get the drift.  This is one of my pet peaves in life (I don’t have many, really).  So, I did some experimenting and came up with measurements that I believe work, and that way you won’t have to guess as I was forced to do.  You're welcome.

I did make some alterations to the recipe, which I will note here…Tyler used 3 lbs of meat, which was way more than I needed, so I adjusted the recipe for 1 lb. of meat.  He used a combination of ground beef and ground pork; I used ground turkey.  The recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, but this being winter and all, I used canned.  He used chanterelle mushrooms; I used crimini.  He used fresh mozzarella; I used gouda (I will try mozarella next time, but the gouda was amazing).  Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly.  OK, so I actually re-wrote the entire recipe, but it wasn't very well written.  You can work from his original recipe if you like (it's here).  

Here’s a breakdown of the process…

Make the meatballs,

 

roll them in breadcrumbs and sauté them in a little olive oil. 

Cook up the mushrooms.

Combine the mushrooms and the tomatoes, simmer.  Place the meatballs in a baking dish, cover with the sauce, top with the cheese. 

Bake. 

Make the polenta and top it with those scrumptious meatballs and silky sauce and serve warm while the cheese is still melty.  You'll be glad you did.  Here's the recipe...

Meatballs al Forno with Creamy Polenta
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence
Printable Recipe

Meatball ingredients

1/2 baguette, crust removed, torn in pieces (about 1 2/3 cups)
½ cup milk
1 lb ground meat
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 extra large egg
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup ground pine nuts (about 1/3 cup whole)
1 tsp sea salt and ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 pound chanterelle or crimini mushrooms, chunked
2 pints vine-ripened small tomatoes (or one 14-oz can whole tomatoes)
1 large or 2 medium balls of fresh mozzarella (or ½ lb gouda cheese, sliced)
salt and pepper

Creamy Polenta, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Soak the bread pieces in a bowl with milk for 10 minutes until the bread is soft. In a second bowl add ¼ cup of the chopped parsley and all of the chopped basil to the meat. Add garlic and mix thoroughly with your hands. Squeeze the milk out of the bread and add it in small pieces. Add eggs, Parmesan, ground pine nuts, salt, and pepper and mix everything together thoroughly. Shape the meatballs into large patties then roll them in the bread crumbs.

In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it begins to smoke slightly. Fry the meatballs to seal the crust, flip them over so both sides are done. Transfer to a large baking dish.

Empty out all but a tablespoon or so of oil from your pan and saute the mushrooms on a low heat until they start to caramelize. Cut the tomatoes in 1/2 and hand-crush them into a separate bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and a few cranks of fresh cracked pepper and mix.  Add to the mushrooms.  Let everything simmer together and reduce slightly for about 10 minutes. Pour the tomatoes and mushrooms over the meatballs. Shred the remaining basil and parsley and the mozzarella over the meatballs. Drizzle with olive oil and add a few cranks of pepper. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes.

Serve with Creamy Polenta.

Creamy Polenta

1 quart chicken stock
1 1/2 cups finely ground cornmeal
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons whole butter
Pinch sea salt

In a large saucepan bring the chicken stock to a slow simmer. Quickly whisk the cornmeal into the stock. Stir in the cream, Parmesan, butter, and salt. Continue to stir and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the polenta is completely cooked and very creamy (the more you stir, the creamier it will get). Turn off the heat and keep in a warm place until the meatballs are ready.

Yield: 4 servings