Meatballs make the perfect party food!
A perennial favourite, these one-bite wonders are simple to prepare, versatile to serve and easy to eat. You can make them as plain or as spicy as you like, and dish ‘em up with one or more sauces for an extra flavour treat. I have just a couple of rules that I always follow when making meatballs. First, use top-quality ground meat, particularly if you’re not smothering your meatballs in sauce. You want meat that tastes good on its own. Secondly, don’t pack the meatballs too tightly – if you do, the meatballs will take longer to cook and won’t be as tender as they could be. Third, make them gluten-free if you can, so everyone at your party can enjoy them. Note that the meatballs can be shaped ahead of time and frozen, as can the sauce. You can easily serve them on a platter with a bowl of the warm cheddar-beer sauce for dipping, but you’ll certainly score extra points for making the effort to serve them on crostini, drizzled with sauce.
For the crostini:
- 1 day-old baguette
- 3 – 4 tablespoons (45 – 60 mL) olive oil
For the meatballs:
- 2 pounds (900 grams) lean ground beef
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) finely minced shallot
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Italian spice blend
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) finely ground oats or whole wheat flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 ounces (150 grams) smoked cheddar cheese
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
- 3/4 cup (175 mL)) mild-flavoured beer
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) smoked sea salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) freshly ground black pepper
- 7 ounces (200 grams) smoked cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups/500 mL)
- To make crostini, slice baguette thinly (1/4 inch) and lay the slices out on a baking tray.
- Brush bread slices lightly with olive oil and bake in a preheated 350F oven until just beginning to brown (6 – 8 minutes). Flip slices over and bake 3 – 4 minutes longer.
- Remove from oven and transfer slices to a cooling rack. (NOTE: you can make the crostini several days ahead; once cooled, store in an airtight container.)
- In a large bowl, combine ground beef, shallots, spice blend, ground oats or flour, spice blend and beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly with clean hands to ensure even distribution of seasonings and egg.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let mixture rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.
- When ready to shape meatballs, cut smoked cheddar into 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) sized cubes. You should get 48 cubes from 150 g block of cheese.
- To form golf-ball sized meatballs, scoop out approximately 1 tablespoon of ground beef mixture by hand and flatten into a disc.
- Place a cube of cheese on the disc and fold the sides up around the cheese.
- Make sure cheese is fully enclosed by the meatball but do not compress meat any more than is needed to seal the cheese inside.
- Place the finished meatball on a clean baking tray.
- Repeat with remaining meat mixture and cheese cubes, placing the meatballs approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the baking trays.
- Refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake and serve.
- To bake, preheat oven to 350F. Bake meatballs for about 20 minutes (longer if frozen), or until they reach an internal temperature of 150F.
- Note that some of the cheese may seep out during cooking, but you easily pick up both the cheese and meatball with a spatula and place on crostini before drizzling with sauce.
- Serve warm.
Makes approximately 4 dozen meatballs.