My life in New York was all about the newest and latest cookbooks, poring through them at The Strand and carefully calculating which ones were worth the price of purchase. In L.A., though, I’m all about finding old, tattered cookbooks at used book stores, both at Counterpoint Records in Franklin Village and Alias Books East in Atwater Village. At the latter, recently, I came upon The Campanile Cookbook which was written by two of America’s greatest chefs back when they were married: Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton. The recipe that sold me instantly is the one I’m about to share with you now.
First of all, though, let’s give a grateful round of applause to our friend and cat sitter, Jay Blair, who uncovered this recipe last night after I texted him from New York and sent him on a scavenger hunt to find the Campanile cookbook. He took a pic and sent it my way which is why you are reading this now (he also did the same with Nancy Silverton’s Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which we’ll get to in the next post.)
Now here’s the thing about this recipe: chicken meatballs have the potential to be bland, rubbery balls of nothingness. These are the total opposite–they positively explode with flavor and they remain incredibly moist–because Silverton and Peel, putting their heads together, use all of the tools in their kit to maximize the chicken meatball’s potential. Step one: toast lots of spices (coriander, fennel, chili).
Grind them up, set them aside. Step two: chop up lots of herbs (parsley, marjoram, sage).
Step three: cook onion and garlic together and let it cool. Step four: make fresh bread crumbs. And step five (probably the most important step): chop up lots of pancetta.
Then, the stroke of genius, you combine everything (along with some Tawny port… yes, you heard that right) in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
Has anyone here every made meatballs in a stand mixer? It works beautifully. You don’t get gross raw bits of chicken under your fingernails and, more importantly, it works everything together so much more aggressively and the resulting meatballs hold together easily. At this point, I used a Sara Moulton trick and made a test meatball to see if the seasoning was good. It was indeed.
After shaping your meatballs…
You can refrigerate them until you’re ready to fry or fry ’em right away. Just don’t crowd your pan and it’ll go smoothly.
(Psssst…. anyone know how to keep your meatballs round while browning them on all sides? I haven’t quite figured that out.)
Once that happens, you make a sauce in that same pan with chicken stock, sun-dried tomatoes and the meatballs which enrich the sauce.
Boil up some fusilli, remove the meatballs, and concentrate the sauce…
…before tossing it with the pasta, topping with the meatballs, and sprinkling parsley and Parmesan on top.
The best news is that, with the exception of the pancetta and the pasta, this is actually a pretty healthy dinner. And once you get the hang of it, you could certainly put it into your weeknight rotation, dressing it up or down depending on how much money you want to spend and how much work you want to do.
But tell me this isn’t a recipe as good as anything you’ll find in a shiny new expensive cookbook? That’s why I go vintage. The books may be battered, but the recipes shine like the day they were written.
Recipe: Spicy Chicken Meatballs with Fusilli
Summary: From the Campanile Cookbook by Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton.
- 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 hot red chile peppers (I used 4 pequin chiles; you want dried here)
- Vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced (1/2 cup)
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 pounds ground chicken (try to get a mixture of dark and white meat; I could only find white meat, though, and it worked out ok)
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 5 ounces pancetta, diced fine (don’t skip this: it flavors everything and makes the meatballs moist)
- 1 bunch chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (3/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup tawny port
- Unbleached all-purpose flour for dusting
- 1 cup Chicken Stock
- 1 1/2 cups slow-roasted tomatoes that you make yourself OR sun-dried tomatoes (like I used)
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 pound dry fusilli
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Chill the bowl and paddle of an electric mixer in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- To prepare the meatballs: in a small sauté pan, over low heat, combine the coriander, fennel and chiles and toast until the mixture becomes aromatic and the ingredients begin to turn slightly brown, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Take care not to burn any of the spices. Remove the spices from the pan and allow to cool. Grind the cooled mixture in your spice grinder or mortar and pestle and reserve.
- In a medium saute pan, preheat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Sauté the onion and garlic just to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.
- Put the ground chicken in the chilled bowl of the electric mixer. Add the bread crumbs, pancetta, parsley, marjoram, sage, 2 teaspoons of salt, and the reserved onion and the toasted spice mixtures. Mix on low speed until well combined, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and slowly add the port and mix for about 2 minutes more. Return the meat to the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour to firm before rolling. (At this point, I’d recommend making a test meatball: just get a little frying pan, pour in a splash of oil, heat it up, and fry a little ball of the meat until cooked through to taste for seasoning. If it tastes amazing, you’re in good shape. If not, add more salt and keep testing until the mixture is perfect.)
- Lightly moisten your hands with cold water to prevent the ground meat from sticking. Form the meat into thirty 1 1/2-inch diameter meatballs.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil for cooking your pasta; season it with salt.
- In a large saute pan, over medium-high heat, preheat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil almost to smoking. Sprinkle a little flour over the meatballs and brown them thoroughly, about 5 minutes. The meatballs should be browned in 2 batches. When all the meatballs are browned, remove them from the pan, discard the oil, and reduce the heat to low. Return the meatballs to the pan and add the stock and slow-roasted tomatoes and simmer about 15 minutes.
- While the meatballs are simmering, cook the pasta al dente according to package directions in the boiling water. Drain the pasta.
- Remove the meatballs from the simmering sauce and raise the heat to high to allow the sauce to concentrate. Taste as you go and when it’s nice and rich and thick and properly intense, add the pasta and toss it all together. (You could also add a tablespoon of butter here, I won’t tell.)
- Spoon the pasta and sauce into warm bowls, top with the meatballs and sprinkle with some chopped parsley and the Parmesan cheese. Voila: your dinner is served.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4