“Meatball” is probably the least sexy name possible for something this delicious. It’s efficient, but lacks any lyricism. In China, they’re called Lion’s head, in Spain, albóndigas, and in Italy, polpettine. All of these words, playful and rhythmic to the unfamiliar ear, are descriptions of the shape rather than the content of meatballs. But then again, maybe something too fanciful goes against their nature, their “stick to the ribs” – ness.
But this humble dish is ready to break out of the confines of its comfort food mold, or perhaps already has in Santa Monica. Two of my favorite local spots have started dressing up the Sunday night classic (R+D Kitchen and Milo + Olive). Their meatballs are light but with a bit of heat and served without a strand of spaghetti in sight. They also share more than a little in common: both are chicken meatballs, both are served in a tomato sauce, and both are ladled over arugula. I don’t know whose idea it was first, and frankly, it doesn’t matter too much to me, because like most good ideas, they’re destined to be copied, and tweaked, and re-made again and again.
For my version of my new favorite dinner, I paired my spicy chicken meatballs (made meltingly tender with some not-so-secret ingredients: milk and a light touch) with an equally spicy tomato sauce: arrabiata, which means “angry” in Italian. How do you know it’s mad? Well, with a base of garlic and red chili, the sauce is certainly making some kind of statement. Topped with fresh basil, bitter arugula, pungent red onion, and of course, a little parm, this dish is perfect by itself, but if you want to push it into hearty territory, serve it over some spaghetti. Add some to an Italian roll for an epic sandwich the next day. Enjoy!
For 12 large meatballs
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup parm, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 pound ground chicken (dark meat)
1/3 cup milk
To make sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed, mix together all of the dry ingredients, then add the chicken, milk, and egg. Gently blend the ingredients together using your finger tips, and then form into 2 inch balls. You don’t want to compact the meatballs too much, then they’ll be dense and dry.
Heat up a large pan over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to coat, and then drop in the meatballs. Cook each side (there’ll be about 4) for about 2-3 minutes until a deep golden brown. It’s ok if they’re not fully cooked through, as they’ll fully cook in the sauce. If you’re not cooking them in the sauce, then cook them over medium heat for 3-4 minutes per side.
For 4 cups
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, 1/4 cup reserved
salt and pepper to taste
Heat up oil, add garlic and chili. Cook 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and wine. Cook 5 min, add basil and cook another 5. Using an immersion blender (or just pour the mixture into a blender), puree the sauce. Season to taste.
INGREDIENTS (FINISHED DISH)
2-3 cups arrabiata sauce
1/2 cup parm, finely grated
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch arugula (about 6 ounces)
Pour about 2 cups of the hot arrabiata into the pan with the meatballs. Turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and cook for 7-10 minutes, or until the meatballs are fully cooked through.
Top with red onions and parm, and ladle on top of a handful of arugula in a bowl. Enjoy!