Monday, September 17, 2007

Kitchen Supper - Meatball Sliders from The Little Owl

At 7am, I spilled cold beef stock down the front of my shirt and then, as I was holding Edie on my hip, she peed down the right side of my jeans. At 7pm, I was still wearing the same peed-on jeans and the same stock-stained shirt. I smelled like a stable. I was downstairs running the kids around the monkey bars on the terrace. The guests were set to arrive in a half an hour.

I look up and saw David waving from the upstairs window, still wearing his cycling helmet. He was home. Fantastic. I love when he first gets home and the energy shifts and the kids squeal with delight and run into his arms and there is all kinds of chatter about the day and the things they did and they are so excited, they hop up and down and cling to him and refuse to let go even though he has yet to remove his sweaty shirt or the bike chain around his waist. And I scoot into the kitchen and start putting the dinner on the stove and we pour glasses of water and wine and do a quick de-brief of his day and ours. The air is different the minute we hear him open the door. It is one of my favorite parts of the day and the thing I miss the most when he travels.

But there was no de-brief before this kitchen supper night. Just a made dash before the guests arrived.

Fortunately, supper was in the bag - Meatballs sliders, recipe from The Little Owl – was prepped. Homemade tomato sauce sat in the big pan on the stove. A pile of ping pong ball-sized meatballs mounded on a plate all browned and crunchy on the outside, raw on the inside, sat expectantly in the fridge.

The food was all good, but the house was looking a little like my clothes - banana had been mashed into the floor in the living room, the bathrooms were as clean as the bathrooms on the subway, the toy room looked like FAO Schwartz exploded and it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually swept “under” anything in a couple of weeks. God help me if someone moved one of the sectional pieces and exposed some week-old growth of moldy broccoli that had been pushed underneath by one of the kids. Well, there goes my “Mother of the Year” title.

I checked the time. Guests arriving in 15 minutes.

The roster for this kitchen supper was full of alums - Warren and Kian from across the hall, Amy and Alex from downstairs and Martha and Matt, David’s brother and our sister-in-law. Let me give you the highlights: meatballs cooked in the sauce while I dropped a wine glass and a cleaning posee had to be dispatched while I stood by watching and holding bare-footed babies, Amy and Alex brought Prosecco to kick us off and a plate of farm fresh tomatoes flecked with her homegrown basil, Amy regaled us with a very titillating description of the young farm hand who sold her the tomatoes that involved his sinewy arms covered in bits of newly mown grass and his sweat-soaked wife-beater clinging to his heaving chest muscles and another story about her husband’s strong, thick “Amish-farm-hand” hands…Okay, Amy has a farm-fetish, but what self-respecting city girl doesn’t, right? I approve whole-heartedly.

More highlights - Lucy stripped off her clothes pretty early on in the evening, which is starting to be a running characteristic of our kitchen suppers, and ran around naked for a good part of the evening, David sometimes lingered at the table chatting with guests and then went off into the living room to roll around on the carpet with Edie, (who decided to forgo bed altogether and kept us busy all night), David also danced the Irish jig with Lucy and the Wiggles in front of everyone (it is amusing and because he has so much fun with it, oddly sexy and appealing) and Amy, Alex and I all bent over the computer and read the article in The New York Times where David was generously quoted and then we stepped back and marveled at how cool his closing quote was.

The Little Owl Meatballs were great. I left them steeping in the sauce and folks made sandwiches with sauce-drenched rolls and arugula. I made a ton of the little guys and there wasn’t even enough left over for David’s lunch on Friday. And because I just left them in the pan on the table, they were great food for picking as the table conversation heated up. People popped one or two in their mouths as they told stories and dipped their bread in the pan, lapping up all the rich sauce. It was nice party food.

Here is the recipe. I made a few note here and there to make it easier to manage with your kitchen full of kids. And Joey Campanaro from the Little owl makes these Garlic Buns from scratch to go with them, but as you might imagine, I bought mine from the fresh baked goods section of Pathmark. If you're the baking rolls type, go for it.

Meatball Sliders From the Little Owl in New York City

For the meatballs:
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal (I couldn't get veal that day, so I used lamb. It was just fine.)
3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 cups cold water
3 large eggs
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Vegetable oil for frying meatballs (approximately 3 cups)

For the sauce:
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh garlic, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 industrial-size No. 10 can (or 4 28-oz. cans) of whole peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

for the sandwich: small or mini rolls and a bunch of arugula

Mix the ground meat with the cheese, the panko, the cold water, the eggs, 3/4 of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Form the mixture into 36 golf-ball-size meatballs. In a large shallow sauce pot or cast-iron pan, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs and cook until brown all over. With a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs and set aside on a plate. Pu them in the fridge and forget about 'em until 40 minutes or so before dinner. Discard the vegetable oil but leave the browned bits in the pan.

In the same pan, heat the olive oil, then add the onion, garlic, basil, and fennel seed. Cook for 5–8 minutes until slightly brown. Add the tomatoes and half a No. 10 can of water. Cook the sauce for 30 minutes, pass sauce through a food mill and return to the pan. (I didn't bother. I think the chunks of onion and tomato are hardy and make the sandwich feel manly) let the sauce sit on the stove (without fire) until dinner is ready. Go have fun.

When you are ready for dinner. Take the meatballs out of the fridge, pop them in the sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Then, make the sandwiches or have them make their own.

xxxooo Kim


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