I don't need to go any further, my search for the perfect Italian meatball is over. My meatball adventure isn't over yet— there are still ham, reuben and Moroccan meatballs to discover but the Italian part of my trip is over. Like any good traveler planning a trip, I spent an afternoon researching different meatball techniques and found this one on the Minnesota Monthly website. The triple ground beef and ricotta piqued my interest, it sounded like a smooth meatball was in my immediate future. I ground the beef, pork and lamb in my food processor and it worked like a charm, but if you have access to butcher, ask them to triple grind it for you and save yourself a few dishes to wash.
I have a meatball theory— if you are going to go to the trouble to mix and mold 15 meatballs, you should double or triple the recipe, mix and mold 65 meatballs and freeze them for a rainy day (or a day when you don't want to be handling ground meat). I freeze them, covered, on a sheet tray and put them in freezer bags after they are thoroughly frozen. This particular recipe is a little wetter than most meatball recipes and you will end up with meatloaf if you tried to put them in a freezer bag unfrozen. One last tip before you start your own Italian meatball journey— do not over-manage the meatball mix, gingerly form it into solid balls and then leave it alone. If you mold it, squeeze it or smash it too much, the meatballs will be a much tougher consistency. The goal is a little, pillowy soft meatball, not a doorstop.
Italian Meatballs (Adapted From Minnesota Monthly and Marco Canora)
2 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
3/4 pound ground lamb
2 pounds ground beef, 80% lean
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1/2 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Parmesan, shredded
Vegetable oil for frying
Wrap ricotta in cheesecloth a day before serving and place in a sieve set over a bowl. Weight cheese, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Mix the lamb, pork and beef in bowl. Working in batches, grind it in a food processor for about 45 seconds or until the texture looks smooth and you can't tell the difference between the different meats. Place all the ground meats back in the bowl (after you've ground them in your food processor).
In a small bowl, add the breadcrumbs and milk, stir to combine and let sit for 5 minutes, or until the milk is absorbed. Add the milk soaked breadcrumbs, ricotta, eggs, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, parsley, onion, garlic, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the meat mixture. Roll the mixture into balls and set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) in a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, place meatballs in the pan and cook until browned all over and cooked thoroughly, about 8 – 10 minutes per batch. Serve with white rice and spoon a little sauce over each meatball. Serve immediately.