Wednesday, February 17, 2010

meatball sliders

The Little Owl is a pocket-sized restaurant in the West Village. Like lots of places in New York, it was very, very hyped after it opened and getting a table there was--and still is--challenging at best. I ate there a few years ago with some friends and really liked it, even in spite of the crowds. I don't remember what I ate but the atmosphere was what got me. It's the cozy, friendly type of place you wish was in your own neighborhood, even though it would be perpetually packed anywhere, due to its teeny dining room.

One of the most talked-about dishes on the menu, other than a Flintstones-sized pork chop served with butter beans, is the gravy meatball sliders, which come three to an order, lined up in a cute little row. This gravy is not the brown stuff that goes over a slice of turkey. Even though I am half Italian, I had never heard the word gravy used to refer to a tomato-based sauce until I moved to New York. People said things like, "I love my gramma's Sunday gravy," and I was very confused until someone explained it to me. This is the type of gravy on these sliders, rich and fragrant from fennel seeds, basil, and garlic.

Like many restaurant dishes, this recipe takes several steps. You have to make the meatballs and brown them in a skillet, make the sauce and puree it, simmer the meatballs in the sauce until they are cooked through, and then assemble each tiny burger. I made the sliders as the centerpiece of our Super Bowl party, and they more than made up for all of that work. The meatballs were juicy and flavorful with parmesan, parsley, plus beef and pork, and the gravy was everything you'd want in a tomato sauce.

Everyone likes tiny food, and burgers are no exception. But tiny burgers require tiny buns. I thought about searching the city for them (because unlike some people, I will not bake my own) and then got wise and cut up hot dog buns into thirds. While homemade buns would probably elevate these sliders into a divine realm, sometimes you just have to know where to draw the line.

Gravy meatball sliders
Adapted by The Little Owl's chef Joey Campanaro for Bon Appetit. These would be a hearty start to a meal, or a meal in themselves, served up with some soup or salad. Or a bunch of fattening snacks, as we did for the Super Bowl.
(Makes 6 servings of 3 sliders)

1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground veal (I used an extra half-pound of beef instead)
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup water
8 Tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided (I used parmesan)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 14.5-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
Arugula leaves (I used spinach leaves)
18 small soft rolls, split horizontally

Mix all meats, panko, 1/2 cup water, 6 tablespoons cheese, egg, egg yolk, 1/4 cup parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in large bowl. Form into eighteen 2-inch-meatballs.

Heat vegetable oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry meatballs until brown all over. Transfer to plate. Pour off drippings from skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Add olive oil to skillet. Add onion, garlic, basil, and fennel seeds. Sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add all tomatoes with juices. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Puree sauce in processor until almost smooth. Return to same skillet. Add meatballs. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes longer. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.

Place arugula (or spinach) leaves on bottom of each roll, if desired. Top each with 1 meatball. Drizzle meatballs with some of sauce and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and 2 tablespoons cheese. Cover with tops of rolls.


Maggie said...

Yum. Bookmarking for sure. I have a weakness for meatball sandwiches. Though I do wonder if you could get away with just simmering the meatballs in the sauce instead of frying—I always do this (out of laziness, not health reasons).

Nicole @ Sprinkle with Salt said...

those look like a lot of work, but well worth it! I can't wait to try them!!

Dan said...

YUM! I think the "gravy" moniker is a New York/Northern NJ thing, because I'd never heard it before adulthood, even with an Italian mother and grandfather.

And another option for the rolls (though the hot dog buns works fine) is Martin's Party Potato Rolls.

Unknown said...

Never heard gravy referencing tomato either. The sauce sounds good, gonna try a veggie version of these.

Lisa said...

Maggie: Browning the meatballs gives them that nice crusty edge, so I wouldn't skip that step, but I suppose you could brown them in the oven on a baking sheet, turning frequently? Maybe that would be easier?

Nicole: Hi! Yes, they are definitely worth the extra work.

Dan: Yeah, I agree. Or maybe a few other areas of the Northeast. But definitely not where I came from! Incidentally, I used Martin's potato hot dog rolls. Need to find the tiny version. Or have Casey bake me some. :)

Tender Branson: The sauce would be great over pasta, too!

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

I brown my meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400˚ for about 10 minutes. Saves me all the oil-splattering hysteria of doing it on the stovetop. My Italian grandmother would be horrified!

And yes, I'm totally up for custom-baking tiny buns. Just say the word!

Daniel said...

When I think of tiny buns, I think of these:

Don't worry. Work appropriate.

CDR said...

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