Tony writes: Meatballs and greens are my version of having vegetables and (actually) eating them (because of the meatballs), too. The pairing had me at Italian wedding soup, but I’ve found it also adapts nicely to other global flavors (see this Vietnamese soup). As we come to the end of the cold weather (loudly knocking on table top), I couldn’t resist the urge to get in one last braise… and have another go at meatball and greens. For this effort, I wanted to return to my first love, Italian wedding soup, and make it bigger, more rustic: in my vision, the meatballs would be largish and seasoned the way you do for sauce (breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, herbs, etc…). And the greens would be hardier: slowly braised kale. And the result was actually pretty wonderful, definitely worth a try. Here’s how:
– Tuscan kale: Lost in the kale craze is that this green can be more than just frill. I’ve long been a fan of Tuscan kale (aka “lacinato kale” or “dinosaur kale”). This varietal, traditional in ribolita and minestrone, boasts flat, dimpled leaves with the same kind of nutritional power as the frilly stuff. But it’s more delicate in both flavor and texture and goes perfectly in this quick braise. – The meatballs and method: One of my pet peeves regarding meatballs is when they’re packed with raw garlic, a certain recipe for indigestion. I like adding garlic from the outside in and keeping the seasoning relatively delicate: fresh rosemary and grated Parmigiano, an egg to help bind the meat together, and a light sprinkling of Panko breadcrumbs. After forming and searing the meatballs, I reserved them and then slowly browned smashed garlic cloves to serve as the aromatic base for the braise. The Recipe: Serves 4
1. Form the meatballs: Add 1 1/2 lb ground meat (I used 3/4 lb each of pork and beef) to a large bowl. Gently mix with 1/2 cup Parmigiano, 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs, 1 egg (beaten), 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Form into 1-inch meatballs, dampening your hands occasionally with cold water to help form. 2. Sear the meatballs: Heat a large Dutch oven (or heavy-based pot) over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. Add 1 Tbs. olive oil (you don’t need a bunch of oil; the meatballs should render plenty of fat). Once the oil is shimmering hot, add half of the meatballs evenly spaced, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until they brown nicely and easily release when you lift up a piece, about 2 min. Roll the meatballs over and cook the other sides until browned, about 2 more min. Transfer to a large plate and cook the remaining meatballs in the same manner, reserving on the same plate after searing.
3. Greens and braise: Add another splash of olive oil (as needed) as well as 3 garlic cloves (smashed) and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes fragrant and lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and 1 tsp. fresh rosemary and swirl around the pan for 15 seconds. Add 1 bunch Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb; stemmed, washed, and cut in 1-inch strips), sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until the kale starts to soften and wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth (homemade or low-salt canned) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer (medium-low), return the meatballs to the pot, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs completely cook through and the greens become tender, 45 min to 1 hr.4. Season and serve: Spoon off and discard any fat on the surface of the broth (if you like). Stir in 1 Tbs. lemon juice, season with S+P to taste, and serve sprinkled with 3/4 cup Parmigiano. (Note: stir 1 tsp. sugar into the broth to balance out the slight bitterness of the greens if you like).