Scarpetta chef and Food Network star Scott Conant is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet and one of the best chefs around. How good a chef? He became famous for having spaghetti in tomato sauce on his menu at the low, low price of $24.00. That doesn’t make him great, just ballsy. What makes him great is that hordes of rip-off averse New Yorkers line up to pay $24 for spaghetti in tomato sauce again and again. To create a $24 spaghetti in tomato sauce that makes diners feel like they got a steal is the mark of a great chef.
How nice a guy? After creating the aforementioned miracle pasta what did he do? Well, he went ahead and published the recipe. He even demonstrated how to make it on television for all to see.
Seriously, if you had the keys to the castle, would you make copies? Yeah, me either. Or neither. What am I, an English teacher?
So, what does Scott Conant have to do with stuffed meatballs? Well, technically nothing. But how much of my inane ramblings ever have much to do with my ostensible point? But what brought him to mind was that once, while watching Chopped, I saw a contestant make meatballs. Scott Conant, this great chef, this apparent awesome dude, flared a nostril and said, “I just don’t like meatballs.” I was crestfallen. It would be like finding out that miracle man Lance Armstrong was really a lying piece of garbage and on drugs and cheating the whole time! I mean, who doesn’t like meatballs? It’s a ball of meat! Sheesh, I’d drink a glass of meat if someone would serve it to me. Meatballs, in their rustic simplicity, are among my favorite food in the world. They’re great in every culture for God’s sake! Even the Swedes have meatballs worth eating, but here was a food hero of mine who didn’t like them. I started to second guess myself. Was I a chump for loving meatballs? Did it call all my foodie beliefs into question? Then I realized that Aristotle believed in the Geocentric model of all planets and the Sun revolving around Earth. If someone as smart as Aristotle could be wrong about planet sized orbs then surely Scott Conant could be wrong about small, meat based orbs, right? In response to my near heresy I decided to not only make meatballs, but to double down and make meatballs even better. By God I was going to make meatballs stuffed with mozzarella cheese!
Since I’ve already gone on about successful restaurateurs, television networks, famous athletes, Swedish cuisine and freakin’ Aristotle, allow me another moment to discuss my meatball philosophies and techniques. Listen, if you’re still here it’s your own fault. Caveat emptor. (Great, let’s add some Latin into the mix.)
Before simmering meatballs in sauce people generally agree that they should be pre-cooked to form a crust. Classically, this is achieved by frying them briefly in oil to brown the exterior. The other method is to bake the meatballs at high heat for 15-20 minutes until browned. Though some consider this blasphemy, it is generally the method I employ and I do so for two reasons. First of all, it’s moderately healthier. Though I’m still eating a ball of ground meat with a high fat content, mixed with bread, cheese and eggs, at least it’s not a fried ball of ground meat with a high fat content, mixed with bread, cheese and eggs. The second reason is that, because moistness and tenderness is of utmost importance to me when I make meatballs, I use a high ratio of wet ingredients like ricotta cheese, eggs and milk. When I form my meatballs they are fairly wet and tacky. Wet doesn’t fry so I bake them. I then braise them at a gentle temperature in crushed San Marzano tomatoes as, considering the relatively long braising time, I don’t want an overcooked sauce. However, these were different. That they were stuffed with cheese allowed me to worry less about the moist and tender aspect. Y’know what’s tender? A meatball with a molten core of melted cheese. This allowed me a dryer meatball which was important because I was frying these meatballs. People can argue the relative merits of baking versus frying, but I wanted these babies to be pure luxury and nothing imparts a crust like frying.
Having just used the word luxury, I must say that is exactly right for these meatballs. They were luxurious. Topped with a rich dollop of ricotta cheese, they were a study in complimentary flavors and contrasting textures. I didn’t serve any pasta with the, just some good, crusty bread and some great olive oil. Scott Conant is a great chef and everyone is entitled to his own opinion but his is wrong dammit! Dead, flat wrong. I could eat these every day and the fact that I don’t is as close as I’ll ever come to professing self control.
Recipe: Stuffed Meatballs
- 1 lb. ground beef (90% lean)
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 3 oz. ground prosciutto (food processor works fine)
- 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs, soaked in milk then squeezed dry
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 ball fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Marinara sauce (preferably homemade or good quality jarred)
- Whisk together eggs and ricotta cheese.
- Combine beef, pork, bread, prosciutto,parsley, oregano, salt, fennel seed eggs and ricotta.
- Mix lightly with your hands. The goal is even distribution while working the mixture as little as possible.
- Coat hands in a slight film of olive oil.
- Make a flat patty about the size of your palm. Place a mozzarella cube in the center and form a ball around it. Repeat.
- Meatballs should be approximately 2 inches.
- Heat equal parts olive and canola oil in a large saute pan until shimmering. Place meatballs in pan, being sure not to crowd them. This can be done in batches.
- Do not attempt to separate the meatball from the pan. When it’s ready to be moved it will release itself easily. Brown on all sides.
- Remove and drain on paper towel lined plate.
- Bring marinara sauce to a simmer in a large pot over low heat.
- Add meatballs being sure that all are covered.
- Simmer, stirring occasionally and carefully, approximately 40-50 minutes.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s) 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6