Bake the meatballs and simmer them in Swiss chard-tomato sauce, says Domenica Marchetti. (Maren Caruso/Weldon Owen)
Can it be that The Family Dish has not yet posted about the ultimate family comfort food? I’m talking about meatballs, of course.
With the chill in the air that has hit the Washington region in the past few days, now is the perfect time to make a batch of tender, savory meatballs, simmered in tomato sauce.
What’s more, meatballs seem to be having a moment, with at least two new cookbooks on the subject and Chef Michel Richard set to open an eatery in Penn Quarter devoted to “rounded meats” (as the restaurant’s sign puts it).
Here at Casa Vance-Marchetti, meatballs have long been the “it” meat dish. For many years I made what was essentially my mom’s classic version, with a mix of beef, pork and veal, first fried and then coaxed into tenderness in an all-purpose tomato sauce.
Lately, however, I’ve put a contemporary twist on the classic by baking the meatballs instead of frying them, and adding braised Swiss chard and a handful of golden raisins to the sauce. I developed this variation for my newest cookbook, “Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian: Simple, Authentic Recipes for Everyday Cooking,” which has just been published by Weldon Owen. (In fact, it’s the book’s cover recipe.)
I was skeptical about baking meatballs until I tried it a few years ago, and I have to say they are every bit as good as the fried ones. Still, in my opinion, it’s the sauce that really makes this dish. The chard gives it an appealing succulence, and the golden raisins add a subtle but welcome sweet note.
We like these meatballs so much that usually serve them on their own, without spaghetti, though you can’t go wrong either way.
You’ll find the recipe on the next page.
Meatballs in Swiss Chard-Tomato Sauce
Makes 18 to 24 meatballs (6 servings)
You can serve these tender meatballs with our without spaghetti -- your choice. We enjoy them on their own, with good crusty bread and a simple salad on the side.
To drink: Try a light red, such as Montepulciano d'Abruzzo or a Valpolicella.
For the meatballs
1 cup (2 ounces) fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons nonfat milk
12 ounces ground pork
12 ounces ground veal
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 pound Swiss chard, rinsed but not dried, stems chopped, leaves shredded crosswise
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup water
3 cups plain tomato sauce, preferably homemade
For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a rimmed baking sheet (ungreased) at hand.
Combine the bread crumbs and milk in a bowl; let stand for 5 minutes.
Combine the pork and veal, soaked bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, parsley, wine, salt and the pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and mix to incorporate thoroughly. Use clean, dampened hands to form into 18 medium or 24 small meatballs and arrange them on the baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning the meatballs as needed, until browned on all over.
For the sauce: Heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-low heat; cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Stir in the chard stems, then increase the heat to medium; cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the leaves and any water still clinging to them; cover and cook for about 5 minuts until wilted.
Add the 1/2 teaspoon salt and the crushed red pepper flakes; cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until all the chard is tender.
Stir in the raisins and water. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes until the raisins are softened, then add the tomato sauce; once the mixture starts bubbling at the edges, reduce the heat to medium-low, then add the meatballs, cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes so the meatballs can absorb some of the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Scoop the meatballs into a serving bowl divide among individual bowls. Top with the sauce and serve.