Bocconcini Stuffed Meatballs with Tomato-Pesto Sauce

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You can’t go wrong with a meatball. And stuffed with cheese? Duh. These delectable spheres of meaty goodness are served alongside a San Marzano tomato sauce and pesto mixture, and hidden inside the beef/pork combo is a melty hunk of mozzarella. Oh yes. Serve alongside a green salad with a crusty loaf of bread. Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray.

TW’s Tips

  • I didn’t love the parsley pesto — which is sans cheese and pinenuts. I might even substitute a pre-made pesto next time. Costco makes an amazing one.
  • If you can’t find bocconcini (usually in the cheese section in a plastic tub with water or olive oil), just buy fresh mozzarella and cut it into small chunks.

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Bocconcini Stuffed Meatballs with Tomato-Pesto Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 slices stale white or farmhouse type bread, broken into pieces
  • Milk, to moisten the bread
  • 2 ½ lb. ground meat mix – pork, veal, and beef mix
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Generous handful, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped plus ½ c. leaves intact
  • ¾ c. grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 16 little bocconcini cheese balls or 16 cubes of mozzarella cheese (about 1 lb.)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil plus ¼ c. for the pesto
  • 1- 28 oz. can plum tomatoes (your favorites)
  • 1 c. fresh basil leaves (pack the cup firmly)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • ¼ c. chicken or vegetable stock

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 425ºF.

Place the torn bread in a small bowl with the milk (make sure all the bread is submerged) and reserve.

In a large bowl, combine the ground meats, garlic, parsley, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, egg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze out the excess milk from the soaking bread (it should be loose and in small pieces) and add it to the meat mixture. Mix everything with your hands to combine.

Divide the meatball mixture in half and score each half into eight sections with the back of your hand. Take one of the portions of the meatball mix and slightly flatten it out in your hand. Place a cheese ball in the center and evenly wrap the meat around the cheese, completely encasing it in the meat. Transfer the stuffed meatballs to a baking sheet. Repeat the process until you’ve used all the meat. 

Drizzle the stuffed meatballs with some EVOO, transfer them to the oven and roast for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch.

While the meatballs are cooking, place a saucepot over medium-high heat with two turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Add the canned tomatoes and break them up with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. Add a little salt and pepper, bring up to a bubble and simmer while the meatballs are cooking.

In a food processor, pile in the basil and parsley leaves, lemon zest, stock, one clove of the garlic, salt and pepper, and zip together to break up the leaves a bit. Leaving the processor running, drizzle in the ¼ c. olive oil until a thick pesto paste forms.

Once the meatballs are ready, remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the pesto. Transfer all of the sauce into a serving dish and nestle all of the meatballs into the sauce.

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Hungarian Style Chili with Smoked Gouda Polenta

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It’s getting a little chilly here in San Diego (well, chilly for San Diego at least), just the weather that makes me crave some warm, comforting soups and chilis. This Hungarian chili, a Rachael Ray recipe, is such a cool take on the traditional Mexican/Texan/Southwestern varieties. It uses basic chili ingredients (onion, pepper, chile, tomato) but switches up the spice with paprika and marjoram/oregano.

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But the real kicker is the smoked gouda polenta that the chili makes its home atop. That’s right, I said smoked gouda. This creamy, cheesy polenta truly makes the dish. You get some smoky flavors from the chile and the chili powder and paprika, but also from the cheese, and the bright herbs on top add just the right note of freshness. You’ll want to curl up on the couch or in front of a fireplace with this dish.

TW’s Tips

  • Using a red pepper instead of green really makes a big difference in the flavors here — don’t switch it out!
  • Find quick cooking polenta in the pasta aisle. Not the pre-made “roll” of polenta — it’s a grain-like consistency that reminds me of finer couscous. It comes in a box.
  • Dill worked really well on top.
  • This makes great leftovers — and would freeze well if you make a double batch. Just make the polenta fresh.

Hungarian Style Chili with Smoked Gouda Polenta  

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 2 pounds coarse ground sirloin
  • 1 red chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder, a palmful and a half
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons smoked sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano, 1/3 palmful
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 1/2 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup shredded Gouda or smoked Gouda
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Finely chopped fresh dill, parsley and chives for garnish

Directions

Heat a large pot over medium-high to high heat. Add beef and brown 7-8 minutes. Add hot pepper, bell peppers, onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook to soften vegetables, 7-8 minutes more. Stir in chili powder, sweet paprika and oregano. Add tomato paste to pot and stir to combine, 1 minute. Add stock to pot and bring chili to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes more.
In a separate pot, bring water or chicken stock and milk to a boil, whisk in polenta and cook 2-3 minutes until thickened. Stir in butter and cheese, season with salt and pepper.

Fill shallow bowls with polenta, make a well in the center. Fill well with ladles of chili and top with sour cream and herbs.

Open-Face Blue Moon Burgers with ‘Shrooms

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As the 4th of July often involves grilling and burgers, in the spirit of Independence Day grub (one day late), I offer this ahhh-mazing burger. Courtesy of Rachael Ray, it’s the Open-Face Blue Moon Burger with ‘Shrooms…and it will knock your socks off. What makes a burger so good? Well, besides the well-cooked, juicy burger itself, in this case it’s the combo of pungent blue cheese, earthy mushrooms, bright parsley and spicy arugula, all on a crunchy, thick piece of bread with well-seasoned tomatoes underneath. Suffice it to say that the flavors in this are pretty crazy. The mushroom-blue cheese sauce is so delicious that I could drink it straight from the plan.

This is definitely a knife-and-fork kind of burger, and I’m okay with that. It just means there’s lots of delicious, messy stuff going on with it. And it’s pretty awesome when the sauce and burger soften the crusty bread just a little bit and you can sop up all that goodness in one bite.

TW’s Tips

  • I didn’t use 2 whole pounds of beef and I definitely make smaller, more realistic size portions. A quarter pound burger is pretty big, and Rachael calls for a 1/2 pound — yikes. That’s a lotta beef.
  • Baby arugula works well for this, and you won’t need to de-stem.
  • Not the end of the world if you can’t find a yellow tomato. It just looks prettier with some variety in color.

Happy Fourth!

Open-Face Blue Moon Burgers with ‘Shrooms

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground sirloin
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO, plus some for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound button mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, a generous handful
  • 4 thick slices country-style crusty bread
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 small bunch arugula, washed and thick stems removed
  • 1 red beefsteak tomato, cut into 4 thick slices
  • 1 yellow beefsteak tomato, cut into 4 thick slices
  • 4 ounces good-quality blue cheese, crumbled

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the ground sirloin, Worcestershire sauce and chopped shallot. Mix thoroughly. Score the meat with your hand, marking 4 equal portions. Form each portion into a large 1-inch-thick patty. Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the patties liberally with some salt and pepper, and then drizzle the patties with a little EVOO and place in the hot skillet. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until the patties are firm to the touch and cooked through.

Preheat the broiler.

While the burgers are cooking, preheat a second large skillet over medium-high heat with the EVOO and butter. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and spread them out in an even layer, resisting the temptation to stir for a few minutes to let the mushrooms start to brown. Once brown, go ahead and stir, continuing to cook for 2 minutes, then add the onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring every now and then, for about 3 minutes, or until the onions start to look tender. Add the chicken stock, bring it up to a bubble, and simmer for about 2 minutes. Add the parsley and stir to combine; taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

While the burgers and the mushrooms are working, toast the bread slices under the broiler until they are golden on both sides.

Coarsely chop the basil and arugula.

Place a piece of toast on each serving plate. Top each piece of toast with 1 slice of red tomato and 1 slice of yellow, and season the tomatoes with a little salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the arugula-basil mixture and put a cooked burger on top of that. Add the blue cheese crumbles to the mushrooms, stir to combine, and top each burger with the mushroom-blue cheese mixture. Grab a fork and knife and dig in.

Fieri Spaghetti and Meatballs

Classic spaghetti and meatballs? Check!

This version is from Guy Fieri — I got his “Food” cookbook for Christmas — and these are some goooood meatballs. Brace yourself for a lot of ingredients, but it’ll be worth it — it results in some pretty amazing flavor. They were juicy, moist and pretty darn spicy. By sauteing the red pepper, onion and garlic first and adding it to the mix, it adds great flavor without having to worry if the veggies will cook through when you’re cooking the meatballs. Nobody likes crunch in a meatball, right?

This is the perfect Italian comfort food meal, and it makes a BIG bowl of pasta. I cut the amount of pasta in half (to one pound) and it was still plenty.

TW’s Tips

  • If you don’t like a spicy meatball (say it in an Italian accent), cut back on the red chili  flakes (crushed red pepper flake)
  • Cooking these things (meatballs) isn’t easy — some of mine started falling apart. Be patient and turn them gently. And don’t be obsessed with them being perfect spheres. This was my problem. Perfectionist? Maybe…
  • I had some leftover homemade marinara in the freezer that I defrosted for the sauce.  If you need a recipe, here’s a good one by Giada De Laurentiis. Otherwise, go for a good jarred sauce and doctor it up with some herbs and spices.
Serve this up with a nice green salad, big glass of red wine and garlic bread, and you’ll feel like you’re eating like Tony Soprano. Or the cast from Jersey Shore. Or Giovanni. Whatever floats your boat. Buon appetito!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup 1/2 inch diced sourdough bread cubes
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 to 6 cups Marinara sauce
  • 2 lbs spaghetti noodles
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Directions

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the extra virgin olive oil. Cook the onion, bell pepper and chili flakes for 2 min. Add the garlic and salt and cook until tender, about 4 min. Transfer the veggies to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, pour the milk over the bread and let soak for 5 minutes. Drain off the milk and lightly squeeze the bread, so that it is moist but not wet.

To the bowl with the cooled veggies, add everything (meat, herbs, bread, eggs) and mix thoroughly but gently and shape into 2 inch balls. The more gentle you are, the more tender the meatballs will be.

In the same pan used for the veggies, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, browning completely. Continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165F or an instant read thermometer.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and bring the cook the spaghetti noodles al dente, according to the package directions. Bring the marinara sauce to a simmer over low heat. Drain the noodles and toss with about 2 cups of the marinara sauce.

Portion individual plates and add more sauce and 3 meatballs per person, and garnish with shredded Parmesan.