Good Ol’ Meatballs

I have a habit of buying ground beef or turkey, using a little bit of it, freezing the rest, and forgetting about it for…months? years? until the next time we move? I’m trying to be better about rescuing it before that point, though, and so when I found myself with some odds and ends recently — a little turkey, a little beef — I decided to thaw them overnight and see where inspiration took me.

It was still tomato season at the time (…shortest tomato season ever? I can’t believe how sad tomatoes look already!) and so inspiration took me to a good old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs.

meatballs

I’ve used Bittman‘s basic meatball recipe as a starting point more than once, and it’s never done me wrong. This time, I split the meat between beef and turkey, whisked an egg in with the milk before soaking the bread, and substituted basil for parsley.

While we made the meatballs, I started a batch of Smitten Kitchen’s cherry tomato sauce — convenient because the meatballs could slide right into the oven for the last few minutes. We served it all over some Community Grains pasta, which was pretty darn tasty (if a little thicker and overall just grain-ier than we’re accustomed to).

Now I have about a dozen meatballs frozen in the fridge. What to do? Meatball subs? A not-entirely-accurate meatball bahn mi?

Good Ol’ Meatballs
(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Ingredients
1 lb. ground meat of your choice (I used 1/2 beef, 1/2 turkey)
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 thick slice white bread, torn into chunks
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
10-12 basil leaves, slivered
salt and pepper

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350

2. Whisk the egg and the milk together. Soak the bread chunks in the mixture until soggy.

3. Gently squeeze out the bread and combine it with the ground meat, chopped onion, parmesan, basil, salt and pepper.

4. Form into 1-inch meatballs (I think I got 18 or so?)

5. Bake on a lightly greased baking sheet for 7-8 minutes.

Orzo with White Beans and Tuna

Individually, I hate two out of the four main ingredients in this recipe.

Tuna stinks. To be honest, I’m not sure if I actually believe tuna stinks; what I know is that at some point when I was a child one of my parents made a comment about tuna stinking, and from then on, I believed wholeheartedly in the stinkiness of tuna. I can count on one finger the number of times canned tuna has entered my house — unless you count cat food.

Pickles? I remember the day I tried my first pickle. It was a pickle spear given to me at a dinner party the day my parents’ friends’ daughter made me cry by playing with my Barbie Ice Cream Shoppe. I was six. I might have also gotten a top stuck in my hair. The top could have been another time, but it’s a painful memory I associate with pickles, so whatever.

orzo with white beans and tuna

As with tomatoes, I’ve recently taken baby steps into eating both of these foods. I’ve had tuna in sushi or on salads occasionally, and when a can of tuna went into a lovely plate of beans and rice I ate in Costa Rica last year, I certainly didn’t run screaming. And at some point I realized it wasn’t the concept of pickles I hated as much as the cucumbers; salt and vinegar and I were cool. But would I have thought I’d be making an entree in which these two flavors are stars? Hardly.

Apparently, though, at some point I thought I might, because when I was putting together the recipe binder, I came across a recipe for white bean and tuna panzanella. I asked Pete if he had saved it. He had not; he hates tuna, too.

Why did we have a tuna recipe? A tuna recipe with a key flavor being pickles? I have no idea, but I felt weirdly compelled to make some version of it. Maybe the 2008 Real Simple-reading version of myself was trying to tell me something.

And…it was good! Sour and tangy, which is pretty much the best I could hope for. I swapped bread for orzo, erring on the side of something slightly less absorbent. I minced the pickles tiny, like almost relish-sized, so they’d be all crunch and no squish. And I went heavy on the red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper, with a little sherry vinegar tossed in for good measure.

The only small problem: I got sick of it fast. There’s only so much tuna and pickle a tuna-hating pickle-despiser can handle, and after a couple of dinners, I really wanted it to be gone. Plus, I was afraid to take it to work — because, y’know, tuna stinks. (I’m also not sure I’ve ever made it to the bottom of any leftover tupperware containing orzo. That stuff is the bunny rabbits of the fridge.)

I’d make about half the amount next time, or at least halve the orzo to let the other flavors stand out more. There might actually be a next time, and that’s the most shocking part of all.

Orzo with White Beans and Tuna

Ingredients
1 small (5-6 oz.) can tuna (if you really like tuna, use two)
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
2-4 sweet-and-sour pickles, diced
1 small red onion, diced
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Dash of sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
1 cup dried orzo, cooked, rinsed under cold water, and drained well

Instructions
1. Boil, rinse, and drain the orzo
2. Chop the onion and pickles
3. Rinse and drain the white beans, then drain the tuna
4. Dump the orzo, onion, pickles, beans, and tuna into a large bowl and stir well to combine
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegars, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Pour over the orzo mixture. Add additional vinegar, oil, or seasoning to taste.

Little Tweaks

Between the cooking-for-one and the adjustments that come with starting a new job, it’s been a little quiet in my kitchen lately. But sometimes the recipes don’t have to be fancy to be victories.

Last week, drowning in CSA eggplant, I dragged out an old favorite and made a few tiny tweaks. Instead of spinach, I used a bunch of chard that also came in the CSA box. The chopped stems went into the roasting pan with the onions, chickpeas, and eggplant, and I stirred in the leaves at the end.

I also chopped up a handful of heirloom tomatoes and threw them in the roasting pan. I increased the cooking time to 40 minutes from 30, stirred a couple of times while the veggies roasted, and waited for the tomatoes to release some of their juices, leaving me with something slightly broth-ier than the standard curry. I also used more ginger and less curry, not so much on purpose as because I’d forgotten we were nearly out of curry powder.

I served it over leftover shell pasta the first night, over couscous the second. And I felt like I’d finally achieved one of the missions of this blog, taking something I already knew and using my instincts to make it better.

Next up: meatballs!