One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.
Laurie Colwin

Friday, January 12, 2007

Meatball Goulash

Adapted from Delia's Winter Collection by Delia Smith

Serves 4

Dish Made with Sliced Peppers

This recipe comes from Delia Smith, a fantastic English cookery book writer. For the life of me, I cannot understand when here in America we all know Jamie, Nigella, Nigel - and some of you even know Tamasin - that Delia Smith is not at the top of this heap. Certainly, she fills the bill to go only by her first name like Julia and Marcella, but more than that, her recipes are really delicious and clear as a bell to follow.

I heartily recommend that you check out 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.

The following was my favorite new recipe of 2006. The meatballs are very light, and the sauce is delicious. Don't let the long list of ingredients and detailed instructions put you off. It's easy to make, and all the work can be done in advance, so it's a perfect dish for company.

Meatball Goulash

Ingredients for the Sauce

1-1/2 large onion, chopped (You can use the other half of the second onion in the meatballs.)
2 green peppers cut into chunks or slices
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce or 2 cups of your own sauce from doing the tomatoes
1 to 1-1/4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade (I have become quite a fanatic about making my own chicken broth and freezing it in one-cup increments.)
1 to 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (I always use 2)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons (or more if needed) of olive oil

Preparation of the Sauce

Use a pan that has a tight-fitting 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.

When you're choosing between Le Creuset enameled cast iron and All Clad Stainless, remember the All Clad, which in my opinion cooks as well as the Le Creuset, is much lighter to handle. Over the long haul, you might consider this an advantage; I do.

Cook the chopped onion in olive oil until it turns pale gold.

Add the chunks or slices 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 flavor but not so long that it burns.

Add the tomato sauce and stir, then add the chicken broth. If I have my own, I just plop the frozen broth right out of the Ziplock bag into the pot, and it melts into the sauce quickly.

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.

Ingredients for the Meatballs

12 oz. lean ground beef and 12 oz. ground pork or 24 oz. of ground veal or, my favorite, 24 oz. of ground chicken, dark - thigh - meat preferred
A little less than 1/2 of the large onion left over from the sauce or 1 small onion, very finely minced or grated*
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 oz. plain dry breadcrumbs or fresh white breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten
Flour to dredge the meatballs in, seasoned with a little hot Hungarian paprika or finely ground black pepper (use all-purpose, unbleached flour or Wondra, which has a very fine texture)
Salt to taste
Grapeseed or olive oil for browning the meatballs

*This is a terrific tool. It's a Microplane Medium Ribbon Grater, and it grates in both directions. In this recipe it works well for the onions that you use in the meatballs because it grates them so finely there are no perceptible pieces of onion in the meatballs.

Preparation of the Meatballs

In a large bowl place the meat, onion, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Mix well, then add the egg 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. Delia Smith recommends meatballs small enough that you get 24 of them, and I aim for that. 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 less you handle the meat, and the less you pack it, the more tender the meatballs will be. I use the scoop above, and handle the meat as little as possible when rolling it into balls, which means the meatballs aren't always perfectly round. The small size of the meatballs makes it easy to roll them without handling them too much.

Coat each meatball lightly with the seasoned flour.

Heat the oil, and brown the meatballs lightly. You don't want to form a tough crust. Transfer the meatballs to a plate.

Finishing the Dish

Add the meatballs to the pan with the sauce. Bring back to a low simmer, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, checking every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. You may have to use a heat diffuser. This one is made in Italy by Ilsa and works very well.

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

Turn off the heat, and stir 3 tablespoons 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.

Now 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. In fact, you might like it better that way.

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.

You might want to use heavy cream instead of sour cream in this recipe 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. The last time I made this dish, I had heavy cream straight from a dairy with no preservatives or stabilizers in it (oh, yum) so I lightened the sauce a little with it. Then I turned the heat off and stirred in a little sour cream too. It was perfect.

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.

This 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 it tastes delicious 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 Gruner 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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