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Fluent in flavor

Meatballs are the little black dresses of the culinary world.

You can dress them up for dinner with a velvet robe of sour cream and wild mushroom gravy. They can be daytime simple with a jacket of roasted tomato

Lake Fong/TNS Classic Meatballs are spicy nuggets swimming in a simple red sauce.

Lake Fong/TNS
Classic Meatballs are spicy nuggets swimming in a simple red sauce.

marinara, trimmed with fresh asiago cheese, and tucked into a crusty roll. Or they can be cocktail party sweet-and-spicy, glistening with a glaze of pineapple juice, sriracha sauce and sugar.

They also are comparatively inexpensive; can be made ahead then sauced later; require little attention once prepared; often can be retrofitted on Day Two for a second go-round; and perform as well at a family dinner, a Sunday tailgate with friends, or a flavors-of-the-world themed get-together. For all this and perhaps more, the ubiquitous meatball is, well, ubiquitous.

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And they’re trendy, too.

One of the nation’s leading food research and consulting firms, Chicago-based Technomic, describes meatballs as a 2016 food trend that’s part of a national movement involving the “elevation of peasant fare” to new heights. “Meatballs … are proliferating – traditional, ethnic or nouveau,” Technomic opines.

The affordability of meatballs makes them the perfect vehicle to introduce family and friends to a new ethnic flavor profile.

Whether fashioned of pork, beef, chicken or no meat at all (as in mushrooms/lentils/cheese), the essential meatball ingredients are comparatively inexpensive. That allows for the spending of a little more dough on some of the spices that are needed to round out a recipe for the likes of Albondigas En Salsa De Limon. Translated, it’s meatballs in lemon sauce. The sauce requires a pinch of pricey saffron threads.

Smacking of pan-Asian is an exceptionally simple and yummy recipe for cocktail meatballs that pairs a delicate ground lamb ball with a spicy-sweet glaze of chile-pepper jelly that can be made for pennies in about 10 minutes. They are like potato chips: You can’t eat just one.

It’s hard to think of meatballs without thinking of tomato sauce. “Classic Meatballs” calls for a very spicy meatball cooked in an unusually simple and spice-free red sauce. They feature ricotta, pork fat and prosciutto with a half-dozen spices, all adding up to a dish that need not sit atop pasta to stand as an entree.

ALBONDIGAS EN SALSA DE LIMON (MEATBALLS IN LEMON SAUCE)

FOR MEATBALLS:

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6 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs

¼ cup milk

Veal and pork combine in meatballs with lemon sauce.

Veal and pork combine in meatballs with lemon sauce.

¾ pound ground veal

¾ pound ground pork

2 eggs

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped prosciutto

1½ tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves or ¾ teaspoon dried thyme

2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

All-purpose flour for dusting

FOR SAUCE:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup finely chopped Mayan onion

¾ cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3 tablespoons minced parsley

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch of crumbled saffron threads

Kosher or sea salt

4 ounces mushrooms, brushed clean, stems trimmed, and caps halved or quartered

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 egg yolks

Chicken broth or water, as needed

To prepare meatballs, combine breadcrumbs with milk in a large bowl. Gently mix in ground veal and pork, eggs, lemon juice, parsley, prosciutto, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Shape into ½-inch meatballs and dust with flour.

To prepare sauce, heat oil in a shallow flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, and saute meatballs until brown on all sides. Add onion and saute until softened. Stir in broth and wine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

Mash 2 tablespoons parsley, garlic, saffron and a pinch of salt to a paste in a mortar, or process in a mini food processor until finely minced.

Transfer meatballs to a warm plate and keep warm. Strain sauce through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a metal soup ladle to extract as much liquid as possible. Return sauce to the casserole and add mushrooms, mortar mixture and lemon juice.

Whisk egg yolks with a little hot sauce from the casserole in a small bowl, then add back to the casserole. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened (do not boil). If the sauce seems too thick, add a little broth or water.

Return meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 1 minute. Serve straight from the casserole, sprinkled with remaining parsley.

– From “One Pot Spanish” by Penelope Casas

CHILE-PEPPER JELLY-GLAZED LAMB MEATBALLS

1 pound ground lamb

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Cocktail meatballs pair a ground lamb ball with a spicy-sweet glaze.

Cocktail meatballs pair a ground lamb ball with a spicy-sweet glaze.

¾ cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 lightly beaten egg

Mix all ingredients lightly, except egg. When combined, add egg and mix again. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place on baking sheet, lined with parchment paper or foil. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake meatballs for 20 to 25 minutes or until internal temperature is 165 degrees. Immediately add cooked meatballs to Chile-Pepper Jelly Glaze in a saucepan and simmer uncovered over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring gently.

CHILE-PEPPER GLAZE

1/3 cup ketchup

¼ cup water

3 tablespoons pepper jelly

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the flavors have blended.

– From “The UltimateAppetizer Ideabook” by Kiera and Cole Stipovich

CLASSIC MEATBALLS

10 ounces ground veal

10 ounces ground pork shoulder

2 ounces finely chopped pork fat or unsmoked bacon

2 ounces prosciutto, finely chopped

1¼ cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped, plus more to garnish

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1½ teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon chile flakes

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

7 slices white bread, finely ground in a food processor

Kosher salt (divided) and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2/3 cup ricotta, drained in a sieve for two hours

2 tablespoons milk

3 eggs, lightly beaten

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing

¼ cup red wine

4 cups canned tomato puree

1 cup beef or veal stock

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish

Combine all meats, herbs, spices, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together ricotta, milk and eggs then add to meat mixture, gently. Chill for an hour.

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Grease two rimmed baking sheets with oil and set aside. Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop (I just used my hands), portion mixture and roll into balls. Transfer to baking sheets.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in high-sided, 3-quart (ovenproof) skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs; cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Transfer meatballs to a plate and wipe out skillet. Repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.

Return reserved meatballs to skillet along with any juices from the plate. Add wine, increase heat to high, and cook for two minutes.

Stir in tomato puree, stock, sugar and salt, bring to a boil and tightly cover skillet.

Transfer to oven and bake until meatballs are tender and have absorbed some sauce, about 1½ hours.

To serve, transfer meatballs to a platter and spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with Parmigiano and parsley.

– Adapted from “Saveur Italian Comfort Food” by the Editors of Saveur

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