Have a Ball: Mini-Meatballs with Cumin Yogurt vs. Risotto Balls with Marinara

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It’s all a bit of a blur.

I agreed to prepare some finger foods at a friend and co-worker’s “summer kick-off” / house warming party.  In my usual fashion, I wasn’t satisfied with preparing something we already know is brilliantly crowd-pleasing.  Although, there was plenty of room for that.

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It had to be simple but packed full of flavor.  Something fresh, comforting, tasty, substantial but noncommittal.  No utensils required (except for the odd toothpick).  Something enjoyed on a Manhattan rooftop during one of our first warm summer evenings.

Meatballs with a yogurt, cumin and lime dipping sauce.  Yes.

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Then, the image of my one vegetarian co-worker flashed through my mind.  I couldn’t deny him.  There had to be something else.  Something that, perhaps, even the meat eaters would flock to.  Risotto balls dipped in marinara.  Done.

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It was the day before the party.  After a long day at work, a Hurculean trip through Bed Bath and Beyond to find an ice bucket, an unsuccessful trip through the Union Square Green market (the vendors were packing up) followed by a shoulder to shoulder shopping spree at Whole Foods, we arrived at the apartment to be “warmed” around 8pm.

Luckily, the kitchen had just been beautifully renovated, complete with brand-new stainless steel appliances and most every kitchen tool.  Newly invigorated, I rolled up the sleeve of my sensible work cardigan and got to work.  I started with the meatballs.  The plan was to get them all rolled and on a sheet pan, ready to be thrown into the oven the next day.

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Then it was time for the risotto.  Since we hadn’t eaten, it’s fate wasn’t only to be balled up and fried.  It would also be a bowl of creamy comfort food to nourish and inspire us to keep going.  It was good.

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Just what I needed to get started on the marinara.  Chop, chop.

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As the marinara simmered on the stove, enveloping the apartment with the smell of deep, winey tomato, the risotto had cooled enough to handle.  Adding the cool, fresh ricotta made it even more manageable and easy to work with.  Once they were breaded and put away (to be fried à la minute at the party), I took a breath.  I’d saved the easiest for last.  The yogurt dipping sauce for the meatballs.

Midnight.  With everything packed away in my friend’s fantastic new fridge with adjustable shelving (note to self: must get one of those), I already felt a sense of accomplishment as the cab made its way over the Brooklyn Bridge.  Maybe l’d actually be able to mingle at this party.

I slept peacefully knowing that tomorrow, I may be tired, but by GOD I’ll have a ball.

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Mini-Meatballs with Yogurt Cumin Dipping Sauce

– 2 lbs ground beef

– 1 lb ground pork

– 2 tablespoons olive oil

– 1 medium Spanish onion, minced

– 4 cloves garlic, minced

– ¾ cup chopped parsley

– 2 eggs

– ¾ cup panko

– ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese

– 2 teaspoons salt

– 1 teaspoon ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pour olive oil in skillet over medium heat and add onion.  Allow onion to sweat and caramelize for 10-15 minutes.  Add garlic to the pan and cook for additional 2 minutes.  Shut off heat.

In a large bowl, combine panko, parmesan, parsley, eggs, meat and salt and pepper.  Add cooked onion and garlic.  This is easiest to do with clean hands.

Roll meat mixture into balls with diameter around the size of a silver dollar and place on prepared baking sheet.  Place in oven and cook for 15 minutes.  Turn broiler on high and cook until meatballs turn a deep brown.

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 Yogurt Cumin Dipping Sauce

–        2 cups plain greek-style yogurt (such as Fage)

–        2 tablespoons ground cumin

–        Juice of 1 lime

–        Salt

Stir all ingredients together in medium sized bowl and add salt to taste.

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Risotto Balls

–        2 cups Arborio rice

–        7-8 cups chicken or vegetable

–        1 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

–        8 tablespoons butter

–        16 ounces ricotta cheese

–        1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided

–        1 cup panko breadcrumbs

–        3 large shallots, minced

–        1 cup parsley, chopped

–        Salt and Pepper to taste

Pour 3 tablespoons olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and cook for approximately 5 minutes until translucent.  Stir in risotto and coat with oil for approximately 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat broth in saucepan until hot to the touch.  Keep on simmer with a ladle ready.

Begin ladling hot broth into pot with rice, one ladle at a time, and stir consistently, allowing the broth to simmer and absorb into the rice.  Before adding each ladle of broth, be sure the broth added previously is absorbed.  Continue this process for approximately 20-30 minutes until rice is tender and creamy in texture.

Turn off the heat and stir in butter, ½ cup of cheese and parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately (with extra cheese) if desiring hot risotto.  Otherwise, allow to cool.

In medium sized bowl, mix panko and ½ cup parmesan.   Once risotto is cool enough to handle, mix in ricotta cheese and roll into silver dollar-sized balls.  Place each ball into bowl with panko/cheese mixture and coat thoroughly.  Set aside in single layer for frying.  (At this point, you can refrigerate risotto balls for up to 1 day)

Frying:

Heat 1 cup of olive oil (or canola oil if preferred) in narrow pot with high sides.  Once a pinch of breadcrumbs sizzles, carefully place 4 to 5 risotto balls in oil.  Cook for approximately 1.5 minutes on each side until outside is crispy and golden brown.  Remove risotto balls and place on plate lined with paper towel.  Repeat with remaining risotto balls.  Enjoy by themselves (be careful, they’re hot!) or with a side of marinara.

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My Marinara

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Note: There are many marinara recipes but there are two that I’ve always loved – Marcella Hazan’s and that of The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion.  Marcella uses butter and onion, whereas Frankies’ uses olive oil and garlic.  Both gorgeous sauces.  After a long day, however, I do a little combo with my own spin.

–        1 large Spanish onion, chopped

–        5 cloves garlic, minced

–        3 tablespoon olive oil

–        5 tablespoons butter

–        2, 28 ounce cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes

–        ½ cup dry red wine

–        1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence

–        1 tablespoon salt

–        ½ teaspoon pepper

In large pot, cook onion and olive oil over medium heat (stirring occasionally) for approximately 10-15 minutes or until soft and beginning to caramelize.  Stir in garlic and herbes de provence and cook for additional 2 minutes.  Add ½ cup red wine and simmer for additional 2 minutes.  Pour in tomatoes, stir and bring to a simmer.  Add butter, salt and pepper.  Turn heat down so that sauce is at a low but constant simmer, partially cover with lid and cook for additional 40 minutes.  Taste and add salt if needed.  Enjoy over pasta with grated pecorino or use as a dipping sauce for hot risotto balls.

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