Grass-fed Meatballs with Pancetta and Mint

These mint lacced meatballs are so yummy and super easy prepare in advance, whether in the morning for dinner later or even earlier to pop in the freezer for a later date. They are an excellent choice for a large group and were a hit with the HoCo crowd at Casa Rice this fall. I served them sans sauce, so we didn’t have red sauce all over the lovely (albeit short!) dresses.

There are a few steps here, but all are worth it to make the most flavorful and tender meatballs. I have been finding grass-fed beef everywhere lately, from the farmers market to the Von’s, and in my book, it’s a no-brainer choice. Oh, and since we are chatting about ingredients, please don’t skip the mint—it adds such a delicious flavor and makes excellent use of the bumper crop in the yard.

Since it’s January, and the winter squash is at the height of its sweetness, I’ve been preparing these balls over spaghetti squash instead of traditional pasta. They’re also great atop any type of simply prepared brassicas. I’m always trying to add more veggies to our diet, to the chagrin of certain table-mates.

As meticulous as I am with sourcing ingredients, I buy a big chunk of parmesan at Costo. What’s not to love? It’s inexpensive and authentic Parmesan Reggiano (complete with the stamped wax on the rind, which certifies its authenticity). You get a big hunk for as much as you would pay for a small wedge at a typical grocery. While I grate parmesan cheese in the meatballs, I prefer shaved parmesan to garnish—it’s a textural thing. I also add whole-leafed parsley or mint, bringing a new fresh element to the dish’s richness.

Bake and present as an appetizer or an entrée with tomato sauce. Use your favorite, or try my go to Aunt Penny’s Red Sauce. Garden tomatoes are ideal when in season, but during the winter months reach for quality canned tomatoes like Mutti.

Grass-fed Meatballs with Pancetta and Mint

Makes approximately 20 Meatballs

1 pound ground beef (grass-fed)
2.5 ounces pancetta, small dice
1 large shallot, minced
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup parsley, chopped
3 T mint, chopped
1 slice of sourdough bread
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a small heavy skillet over medium-low heat add shallots and pancetta and sauté until caramelized about 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Tear the sourdough bread in half and submerge in a small bowl full of tepid water, reserve. In a large bowl add the ground beef, parmesan, parsley, mint, garlic, egg, salt, and pepper. At this point, the reserved bread will be fully saturated. With your hands squeeze out excess water and crumble over the other ingredients. Add the cooled shallot and pancetta mixture and combine the whole kit and caboodle with your hands until it just comes together and the ingredients are evenly disbursed. Be careful not to over mix or the balls will get tough.

In a quarter sheet pan lined with parchment, scoop out balls with a two-tablespoon-sized ice cream scoop. This will make golf ball-sized meatballs that will be all the same size so they will cook evenly. I scoop them out five across, it’s ok if they touch as they will shrink as they cook.

Place on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. The meatballs should be golden brown.