By Chef Domenica Catelli
I just returned from a whirlwind trip to NYC for Meatball Madness, a meatball competition sponsored by Food and Wine Magazine and The Food Network. In this competition, there are 40+ great New York chefs competing for the bragging rights to have the “best meatball.” My brother Nicholas and I were invited to join the festivities thanks to our friend, Guy Fieri, and since our restaurant Catelli’s, debuted on Food Network this past spring.
It was an exhilarating and fun trip. We were prepping our 600+ meatballs before we finally arrived at 82 Mercer, in the heart of Soho for the big event. It is a bit of a juggling act to cook that volume of sliders in a 3 x 4 foot space with a mini convection oven and an enormous cast iron skillet. Somehow we pulled it off (thanks also to our culinary school volunteers who helped slice open six hundred buns, and our friends Constance and Audrey who jumped in to do whatever it took).
I have never been a big fan of meatballs; they tend to be too dense and dry. I made sure that my recipe is the opposite of that. I add ricotta cheese which creates moisture and lightness. The other trick is I use Panko breadcrumbs versus the denser regular bread options. Lastly, the amounts of fresh onion, garlic and thyme really put these at the top of most people’s lists. I’ve linked to my recipe below.
Some tips on making great meatballs:
- Meats: Use a ratio of 1:1 on beef and pork, or beef and ground turkey or chicken.
- Size: Don’t make your meatballs too big—otherwise they take too long to cook and will dry out—don’t make them any larger than a golf ball.
- Browning: Brown the meatballs in a cast iron skillet and then finish off in the oven at 450 for 3-5 minutes. Browning gives crispness, color and texture to the meatballs.
- Don’t overcook: Most of us have a misunderstanding that meatballs need to cook at a low heat for a long period of time. This will just dry them out.
Other small tips that make a huge difference in the product:
- Use ricotta cheese to keep meatballs moist and light.
- Use Panko breadcrumbs that also keep them light compared to the denser and heavier breads.
- Use fresh herbs instead of dry herbs.
Last tip: Freeze your meatballs. If you don’t make meatballs often, freeze a bulk of them for an easy pasta dinner during the week.
So, how did it all turn out at the event? Our first visit was from Giada De Laurentis of Food Network who gave a thumbs up to my organic tomato sauce. The judges stopped in for a tasting, and then the doors to the public opened and 900 people gathered for what was such an appropriately named event!
At one point we had a line for our sliders that I couldn’t see an end to. We had hundreds who came back to tell us we were their favorite at the event. Ultimately we didn’t win the prize but we had a blast, and it was great knowing that we introduced my meatballs and Catelli’s to a new crowd that will stop in and see us when in wine country or San Francisco.
You can find my full meatball recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jacks-sliders-recipe/index.html
Until next time, stay fresh and delicious!