Friday, January 12, 2007

Meatball Goulash

Adapted from Delia's Winter Collection by Delia Smith

This recipe comes from Delia Smith, an English cookery book writer. I cannot understand when here in America we all know Jamie, Nigella, and Nigel that Delia Smith is not at the top of this heap. She certainly fills the bill to go only by her first name like Julia and Marcella, but more than that, her recipes are really delicious and her instructions are clear as a bell to follow.

I recommend that you check out some of her books, especially Delia's Winter Collection, where this recipe comes from, and How to Cook, which is excellent for accomplished cooks as well as beginners and has a particularly enlightening section on egg cookery.

Don't let the long list of ingredients and detailed instructions put you off this recipe. It's easy to make, and all the work can be done in advance, so it's a perfect dish for company; in fact, it's my favorite dish for company.  

When you make the sauce, you should use a pan that has a lid and is large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer. I use a 6-3/4 quart Le Creuset Wide French Oven, which is called a Risotto Pan

or a 13-inch All Clad Stainless Steel Braiser, which is the same as the All Clad Paella Pan with a domed rather than flat lid. (If you get this pan, I recommend you buy the flat lid separately, which makes it very versatile as it can do double duty.)

When you're choosing between Le Creuset enameled cast iron and All Clad Stainless Tri-ply - both of which are excellent - remember the All Clad Tri-ply Stainless is much lighter to handle. Over the long haul, you might consider this an advantage; I do.  Having said this, I would be hard pressed to give up my Le Creuset French Ovens, which I use all the time.
Meatball Goulash
Adapted from Delia's Winter Collection by Delia Smith

Serves 6 (4 with leftovers, which are good)

Ingredients for the Sauce

1-1/2 large onion, chopped (You will use the other half of the second onion in the meatballs.)
3 tablespoons (or more if needed) of olive oil
2 green peppers cut into chunks
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 to 1-1/4 cups chicken broth
1 to 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (I always use 2)
Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the Meatballs

1 pound of lean ground beef, preferably grass fed, and 1 pound of ground pork
(You can make this recipe with veal or with chicken; if you use chicken, ground dark meat is the best.)
A little less than 1/2 of the large onion left over from the sauce or 1 small onion, very finely minced or grated (I use a Microplane Medium Ribbon Grater, which works in both directions to grate the onion; that way you have the juice and flavor of the onion without perceptible pieces.)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 ounces plain dry breadcrumbs
2 large eggs, beaten
Wonder Flour seasoned with a little hot Hungarian paprika or a little cayenne pepper to dredge the meatballs in
A little salt
A little pepper
Grapeseed, peanut, or olive oil for browning the meatballs

Ingredients to Finish the Dish

Sour cream or heavy cream or crème fraîche

Preparation of the Sauce

Cook the chopped onion in olive oil until it turns pale gold.  Do not let it brown.  Add the chunks of green pepper, and cook for another minute or two. Then add the sweet Hungarian paprika, and cook for a minute more, just enough to cook the paprika so that it releases its fragrance but not so long that it burns.  I call this step the blooming of the  paprika.

Add the tomato sauce and stir, and then add the chicken broth.  (I swish the chicken broth in the tomato can before I add it to get all the tomato sauce out of the can.)  Stirring occasionally, heat the sauce till it comes to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Season with salt, but be careful if you have used tomato sauce or broth seasoned with salt.  Cook for about 20 minutes before adding the meatballs.

Preparation of the Meatballs

In a large bowl place the meat, onion, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Mix well, and then add the eggs and a little seasoning of salt and pepper. Using your hands, combine everything together. If you are using chicken, you may have to add additional breadcrumbs because the ground chicken is usually very moist. Shape into meatballs.  You can use a small ice cream scoop or cookie dough dropper if you have one that's the right size to portion the meatballs. The one I use has a 1-1/2-inch diameter. I believe it would be one that holds 1-1/2 tablespoons.  The small size of the meatballs makes it easy to roll them without handling them too much; the less you handle the meat, and the less you pack it, the more tender the meatballs will be.

Coat each meatball lightly with the seasoned flour, and place on a plate until all the meatballs are done.

Heat the oil, and brown the meatballs lightly. You don't want to form a tough crust. As you go along, transfer the meatballs to a clean plate.

Cooking the Meatballs in the Sauce

Add the browned meatballs to the pan with the sauce. Bring back to a low simmer, and cover with a lid. Simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, checking every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you can't get the flame low enough, you may have to use a heat diffuser.

The sauce will thicken to a nice consistency because the meatballs were lightly dredged in flour before they were browned.

Finishing the Dish with Sour Cream or Heavy Cream or Crème Fraîche

Turn off the heat, and stir 3 tablespoons room temperature sour cream into the sauce to get a marbled effect. This marbling effect is lovely, and the sour cream adds a nice tang to the dish.

However, I have to tell you something about the sour cream step.

I have completely forgotten to add the sour cream a few times (yes, more than once), and the dish is still wonderful.

Also, since I don't love how the leftovers heat up with the sour cream in the sauce, and since I serve individual plates, unless I know I'm not going to have leftovers, I often plate each dish and then top each serving of the meatball goulash with a little sour cream. This allows each diner to stir it in to get the requisite marbled effect.

Often I use heavy cream instead of sour cream since there is no danger it will curdle. It doesn't really change the taste much, and it does lighten the color of the sauce.

If using heavy cream doesn't appeal to you, crème fraîche has almost the same tangy effect as sour cream without the danger of curdling, and it's delicious.

Print recipe.

Microplane Medium Ribbon Grater
This dish is good served with buttered spaetzle, buttered peas or green beans, and cucumber salad with a sour cream dressing. I serve the cucumber salad on the same large white plate with the other food because I like the way it tastes all eaten together.

Buttered egg noodles also work well in place of the spaetzle, and DeCecco egg noodles are especially good.

My wine choice would be a Grüner Veltliner, and a good dessert is a plum torte - this one from Marian Burros or any other you have in your repertoire. Dorie Greenspan's Apple Cake is good too.

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