Pizzeria Mozza: Meatballs al Forno

Mozza Pizzeria's MeatballsDinner at Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza marked the end of our trip to L.A.. Mozza is known for having some of the best pizza in the country and our pizzas (goat cheese, leek, scallions, garlic & bacon + an egg for me and pizza margherita with mushrooms for Reed) did not disappoint.Mozza Pizzeria

Since we couldn’t get a reservation, Mozza’s a long standing West Hollywood favorite, we decided to just show up and try our luck. We scored seats at the bar since the bar is first come first serve seating. Just like at Tar & Roses the bartender not only knew the wine list backwards and forwards but he knew the menu and offered great suggestions, i.e. adding an egg on top complemented my goat cheese & leek pizza very well.Ingredients for Meatballs

Prior to our wonderful pizzas we spilt the meatballs al forno and the grilled bread (it seems like we just couldn’t get enough carbs in that night). Grilled bread doesn’t sound very exciting but this was superb bread grilled over an open flame, then doused in flavorful olive oil with a liberal dusting of sea salt. It was a shining example of quality ingredients + simple preparation yields great food.

Just before mixing the meatballs

Just before mixing the meatballs

If I had a grill I would have totally made the grilled bread for this post but I’m pretty sure New York’s fire code restricts grilling on fire escapes. With no grill access and a minor pizza making phoebe, I decided to go with the meatballs even though I’ve never made meatballs before.

The one time I tried to make pizza it super glued itself to the pan and only came off after much soaking and scrubbing. Maybe someday my brother, who isn’t into cooking but makes a very good pizza, can give me a lesson (hint, hint) but until then I’m steering clear.Meatballs before cooking

The Mozza inspired meatballs were trickier than expected. Generally, I love Epicurious and find lots of great recipes there.  Either this time Epicurious didn’t work so well or I messed up. Since 132 people have given this recipe an average rating of 4 forks, Epicurious highest rating, it might have been me. I reduced the recipe by 2/3 and maybe that’s where the problems crept in.  Mozza’s meatballs were perfectly round while mine came out looking more like extra thick slider patties because they mushed down in the frying pan.

My sadly misshapen meatballs

My misshapen meatballs. So sad :( but they were still tasty

I only strongly agree with the statement ‘You eat with your eyes.’ right after I’ve made something really pretty. Somehow I don’t feel so strongly about ascetics when my cooking adventures get a little messy.  But this was for the blog and disc-like meatballs wasn’t what I had in mind for my Mozza post.

Spagetti & Meatballs, a departure from Mozza's meatball appetizer with grilled bread

Spagetti & Meatballs, a departure from Mozza's meatball appetizer but after 3 hours of cooking I was done and it was going to be dinner not just a first course

After further research I found Mozza’s actual recipe for meatballs.  I think the crucial step for maintaining the meatballs’ roundness was chilling them before cooking. Chilling my Scotch Eggs helped them keep their shape. Next time I’ll try Mozza’s recipe but for now I have months worth meatballs, quite tasty ones too even if they’re malformed, packed away in my freezer. My adaption of Epicurious’s recipe is below and I added in a step for chilling  them. Good luck and may your meatballs stay round.

 Meatballs (yields about 24 meatballs)

(Active time: 1 hour 30 minutes    Total time: 3 hours 30 minutes)

For Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

For Meatballs:

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups torn day-old Italian bread
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 pound)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 pound ground veal (I skipped the veal and just used more of the pork and beef)
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 pound ground beef (not lean)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Making the tomato sauce: 
Cook the onions in oil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 more minutes. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Using the back of your spoon break up the whole tomatoes. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Making meatballs: 
Cook the onions in olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding the milk.

Stir together cooled the onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest,  salt, and pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hands until just combined (do not overmix).

Form meat mixture into about 24 (1 1/2-inch) balls with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on 2 large baking sheets or in shallow baking pans. Chill meatball in refrigerator for an hour.

Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then brown meatballs in 4 or 5 batches (without crowding), turning frequently, about 5 minutes per batch.

Add meatballs to sauce and gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve meatballs with grilled bread or pasta.

*This makes a lot so its good to know that the meatballs will keep for up to 3 months in your freezer.

-Adapted from Epicurious

-I suggest trying the recipe for meatballs al forno from mozza at Serious Eats post Cook the Book: Meatballs al Forno from The Mozza Cookbook.

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