We love meatballs big time around here. Whether I buy pre–made gourmet meatballs or make my own, a feeding frenzy always ensues at serving time. But, unlike the recently released kid’s movie, it’s usually sunny here in Los Angeles when it’s raining meatballs at our house. Though I do notice that I seem to make meatballs a lot more often this time of year (as the weather begins turning seasonably cooler), when I won’t feel guilty committing to an afternoon of meatball rolling and braising.
Most people think of Italy when they hear the word meatball. One of our family’s favorite Italian meatball recipes comes from Rao’s in New York City. They’ve been in the Italian restaurant biz since 1896, so I think it’s safe to say, they know their balls (meatballs that is). I’ve also tried many recipes from other cultures through the years to keep this meatball–lovin’ family happy. Asian meatballs? Sure, I’ve got a recipe for that. Swedish? Ja! Got it covered! Hungarian? Did you say Hungarian? As in, Leah is part Hungarian and should already have an old family recipe in her repertoire? Wrong! My mother and grandmother both cooked and baked many Hungarian dishes when I was young, but I never saw a meatball come out of either one of their skillets. So, imagine my surprise the other day when I discovered a recipe for Hungarian meatballs!
Here’s how it went down: I was innocently browsing through my emails and came across one from food52.com (a website created to hold weekly recipe contests that in a year’s time will result in a published cookbook of all the winning recipes). One of that particular week’s categories called for recipes featuring paprika. Well, lo and behold, don’t cha know someone submitted Hungarian Meatballs, which fit this category perfectly as it calls for not one, but three varieties of paprika! BOO-YAH! Try topping that! Not only did the recipe satisfy the category requirements nicely, it also satisfied the Wine Imbiber’s cooking rule of thumb that a recipe that lists wine of any kind on the ingredients list is an automatic winner—or at least a serious contender! And, the recipe was created by a guy who said that there was “a strong Hungarian presence in the area where I (mis)spent my youth, and I am no stranger to the wonders of all varieties of paprika”.
Still, I had my doubts that Hungarians had a recipe for meatballs that I never knew about. So, I started googling Hungarian meatball recipes to see if this was just one guy’s creative interpretation of an existing meatball recipe. Or, did other similar recipes actually exist? Sure enough, there were other recipes (all bearing similarities to each other in one Hungarian way or another). What finally convinced me that this meatball concept actually existed was the recurrent use of caraway seeds, sour cream and, of course, paprika—three ingredients Hungarians use a lot of in most everything they make and bake.
Unfortunately for Bogre (the recipe’s creator), his recipe didn’t win that week. But at our meatball–infatuated house, the recipe was a real winner! Even though the ingredient list for the meatballs starts off like another version of Italian meatballs, the combination of spices will really distinguish them in the end. Ditto for the sauce, which I slightly adapted, partly for convenience and partly for personal taste. I served them over No Yolks Noodles that were tossed in some almond oil, chopped fresh chives and lemon balm from my garden with just a touch of salt and freshly cracked pepper.
WI wine recommendation: You’ll already have a bottle of dry white wine open for preparing this dish, but you might prefer a Syrah to complement the spices in the dish.
(adapted from Bogre’s submission at food52.com)
For the Meatballs:
3/4 pounds ground pork
3/4 pounds ground beef (15–20% fat)
1/4 pound pancetta, small dice (Trader Joe’s sells packages of this)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (each) red pepper flakes, ground coriander, ground cumin, caraway seeds (crushed), kosher salt, and ground pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered (I used 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 large banana pepper*, chopped
1 tablespoon (heaping) sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot or half–sharp paprika
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon porcini mushroom powder*
1/4 teaspoon (each) dried rosemary, thyme, crushed fennel seeds, and marjoram
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped and divided in half
1/2 cup dry white wine
14 ounces stewed tomatoes, chopped, with juices
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream
Grated parmesan cheese (my addition)
Preheat oven to 325° F. Lightly mix all ingredients for the meatballs* (except the olive oil) together and form into balls approximately 1–1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cover and place in refrigerator so they can firm up (about 30 minutes). Brown the meatballs (on all sides) in the olive oil in a large, oven–safe pan. Once they have browned, remove them to a plate and set aside.
Add the chopped onion to the pan drippings and sauté them until they start to brown. Add the mushrooms and sauté a few minutes more (until they start to brown). Add the garlic and chopped pepper and sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds), then add the paprikas, the mushroom powder and the rest of the herbs and spices (use only half of the parsley at this time). Cook for about a minute more, stirring constantly. Stir in the wine and deglaze the pan. Cook until wine is mostly evaporated, then stir in tomatoes (with their juices) and the broth. Bring to a boil, then return the meatballs to the pan.
Transfer the pan to oven and braise for 1–1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
When the braising time is up, remove the pan from the oven. Put the sour cream into a small bowl, then temper* it by stirring in a few spoonfuls of the braising liquid. Stir the sour cream mixture back into the pan, evenly coating the meatballs and thoroughly mixing the sauce around in the pan. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and the remaining parsley over the tops of the meatballs and serve as an appetizer or entrée. When served as an entrée, try using the meatballs and sauce as a topping over egg noodles or spaetzle.
*Cook’s Notes: I couldn’t find a fresh banana pepper at the store, so I used some jarred, deli–sliced banana peppers I found in my refrigerator. I rinsed them thoroughly to rid them of the brine and then chopped them up. I also had no idea where to find porcini mushroom powder, so I just ground up (to a powder) some dried mushrooms I had on hand with my mini pimer. I’m not sure which kind of mushroom I used (the container listed four varieties on the label) but, I’m sure any kind of mushroom powder would work fine. Also, it was suggested by the editors of food52.com to mix the pork and beef before adding the rest of the seasonings and to roll the meatballs as gently as possible. And be sure to temper the sour cream before blending it into the sauce!