Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Roman Style Meatballs with Gnocchi alla Romana

Williams-Sonoma publishes a series of catalogues throughout the year that feature some of their latest products as well as a collection of interesting recipes. One issue that inspired me was called 'Bringing Home Rome' that featured a delicious recipe for Roman-Style Meatballs with Gnocchi from Gusto Ristorante in Rome — an emporium-style restaurant that we dined at one afternoon when we were in the eternal city two years ago.

Interior of Gusto Ristorante in Rome

Made with ground beef, pork and bits of prosciutto, these hearty Roman meatballs are simmered in a tomato sauce and served with tender gnocchi alla Romana, which are are prepared in the traditional Roman style, using coarsely ground semolina flour, hot milk, butter, egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. To form the gnocchi, the rich polenta is prepared, cooled, and then cut into disks using the wet rim of a small glass. The disks are then sprinkled with melted butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and baked in a hot oven until they become lovely little golden pillows, incredibly light and delicate. Served with fragrant Roman meatballs slathered with a rich tomato sauce, this is classic Italian cuisine as eternal as the city from which it was born. 

Roman-Style Meatballs with Gnocchi alla Romana

Serves 6-8
Adapted from a recipe from Williams-Sonoma

For the meatballs:
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs 
1/2 cup milk 
4 oz finely chopped prosciutto 
1 lb ground beef 
1 lb ground pork 
2 eggs, lightly beaten 
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
2 tsp finely chopped fresh oregano 
6 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil 
5 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more, to taste  
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste 
5 tbsp olive oil 
1 yellow onion, diced 
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes with juices 

For the gnocchi:
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups semolina
2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 egg yolks
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus 3 tbsp melted butter

To make the meatballs:
In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk and let stand for 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, combine the prosciutto, ground beef, pork, eggs, cheese, parsley, oregano, 3 tbsp basil, 3 of the minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Add the soaked bread crumbs and mix gently until combined. Divide the meat mixture into 1/4-cup portions and roll gently into balls. To ensure tender meatballs, don’t overwork the ingredients, just mix them gently until they're just combined, then place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tbsp olive oil. Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate. In the same pan over medium heat, warm the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the remaining 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining basil. 

Add the meatballs to the pan and cook, turning occasionally and basting with the sauce, until cooked through, about 30 minutes. While they're cooking, start making the gnocchi. You could also serve them with spaghetti if you wish.

To make the gnocchi alla Romana:
Bring the milk to a boil, and gradually stir in the semolina, stirring constantly to prevent lumps and keep the mixture from sticking to the pot. The mixture will become quite thick and will start to come away from the sides of the pot. Remove from the heat and continue to stir vigorously, which will take away some of the heat from the mixture. Add the beaten egg yolks and keep stirring. Then add 3/4 cup of the cheese, 6 tbsp of butter and a pinch of salt, and continue stirring well. The mixture will tend to separate but keep beating and it will come back together to form a sticky paste.

Pour the semolina mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet, spreading it evenly and smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. 
This can be prepared hours ahead. Just cover the gnocchi with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Once cold, lift the mixture from the tray using the baking paper and place on a board. Butter a large skillet, and using a biscuit cutter, cut the gnocchi into discs. Arrange the gnocchi in the skillet so they're overlapping like roof tiles. Brush the tops with the melted butter, which will make them crispy, and sprinkle the tops with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake until the gnocchi is golden brown and a crust has formed on top, about 30 to 35 minutes. If a crust hasn't formed, raise the temperature to 500 and bake another 5 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving. 

Transfer the Gnocchi and Roman-Style Meatballs onto two separate platters and serve immediately. Buon appetito!