Adapted from Buvette, The Pleasure of Food by Jody Williams
I love meatballs. Always have. Always will. So it wasn’t a big surprise when we met Godfrey and Angela at Gusto Ristorante on Greenwich Avenue that I ordered the Sicilian meatballs.
What WAS a big surprise was that they were the best meatballs I had ever eaten.
They were about the size of a walnut, a little lumpy, and studded with pine nuts and currants, and there were eight of them bathed in a dark, smooth sauce. At the waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the house-made tonnarelli with pecorino cheese and black pepper to eat with them, and the chewy, square-shaped salty, cheesy pasta was the perfect counterpoint to the meatballs – sweet in one bite, savory in the next. If you want to know more about this delicious pasta, check out what Rachel has to say.
I Googled around and found out that the meatballs were originally made at Gusto’s by the chef Jody Williams, who by then had moved on to Morandi, taking her meatballs with her. So I had two places to eat them and try to figure exactly what was in them. I started experimenting around and came up with some pretty good meatballs, but none of them held a candle to the original.
Then, accompanied by a little NYC buzz, Jody Williams opened Buvette, her jewel-box of a restaurant on Grove Street in the West Village. She calls it a gastrothèque - a place to hang out, read the paper, and eat and drink good things from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The first time I went there, I was disappointed not to find meatballs on the menu (but I did eat delicious roasted beets with horseradish crème fraîche and almonds and started trying to replicate them at home too). The waiter told me Jody Williams was working on a cookbook, and I have been waiting for it ever since.
It was released last week, and I was lucky enough to win a copy from FOOD52. There it is - on Page 194 - the recipe for THE meatballs. Currants and pine nuts and garlic, oh my.
Having this book doesn’t mean I won’t be going back to Buvette, but it does mean I can enjoy the meatballs (as well as the Roast Beets with Horseradish Crème Fraîche) at home any time I want. In my large collection of cookbooks, Buvette is a stand-out - highly recommended.
At Long Last Meatballs (Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Currants)
Adadpted from Buvette, The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams
Your favorite tomato sauce simmering on the stove
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon freshly-chopped flat leaf parsley
2 ounces homemade breadcrumbs from white bread (if you don't have your own bread, use Pepperidge Farm Sandwich Bread)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground beef
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons Maldon Salt, crushed between your fingertips
1/2 teaspoon freshly round black pepper
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese grated on a Microplane
1 large egg, beaten
Neutral oil for frying - I use grapeseed or peanut
Toast the pine nuts on top of the stove. I use a 10-inch cast iron skillet, which gives me plenty of room to stir them as they toast. They get crunchy as they turn slightly golden - they do not have to actually color - so take them out a little before you think you should. Above all, do not let them burn, or you will have to start over.
Put the currants and sherry vinegar in a small bowl, and add a little warm water to soften them. Let soak for 10 minutes, then drain.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet, and add the onion, and cook to soften. This will take about 6 minutes. Then add the crushed garlic, and cook for 4 minutes more. Add the parsley, and cook for 1 more minute. Remove the mixture from the skillet to a small plate with a slotted spoon, and using a fork, mash the garlic into a fine paste. Then let this mixture cool.
Break the egg into a large bowl, and beat with a fork. Then add all of the ground meat, the cooled onion-garlic-parsley mixture, the drained currants, toasted pine nuts, chili flakes (crushing with your fingers), nutmeg, Maldon Salt flakes (crushing with your fingers), pepper, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
Portion this mixture into meatballs using a 1-1/2 inch scoop to make them all the same size. Roll them with your hands, but they do not have to be perfectly round; a little lumpy is okay. Heat about 1/4-inch of a oil in a large skillet, and brown the meatballs on all sides. I like to use a neutral oil, grapes or peanut, to cook the meatballs, but you could use olive oil. Add to your simmering tomato sauce, and cook for 20 minutes.