Meatballs in an Italian context are almost always associated with tomato sauce, and rightly so; it's a delicious combination. But if you ask Mario Batali, that's not the only way to serve them. Flipping through his Molto Italiano cookbook the other day, I came across this recipe for meatballs filled with ricotta cheese, pistachios, and Parmesan (and they are as creamy and sublime as they sound). But the presentation was even more unconventional: A sauce of chicken stock and milk.
I know this seems like an odd dish, and Batali admits that the idea might seem that way—especially since the milk and the chicken stock are not joined with a roux or something to emulsify them into a sauce, but rather the sauce looks "broken." But it's all richness and comfort. In fact, it's so milky and pleasing that it's a good thing the meatballs are also studded with chunks of cornichon pickles. The little bursts of brininess balance the dish with a touch of acidity that sets the rest of the flavors in relief.
You definitely need something to soak up all that broth. For all-out comfort food, I served it with creamy polenta. I could also see this with big slabs of grilled peasant bread.
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound ground veal (or substitute beef)
- 8 ounces fresh ricotta
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 6 cornichon pickles, chopped
- 3 pistachios, chopped
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- salt and pepper to taste
Combine the meat, ricotta, eggs, cheese, bread crumbs, cornichons, and pistachios in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands until just blended, then form into balls 1-inch in diameter.
Heat the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet until the foam subsides. Add the meatballs carefully and brown on all sides, then add the stock and milk (it should come about halfway up the meatballs). Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer, and cook until the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with the broth ladled over the meatballs.