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Grilled Meatballs with Sungold Tomato Sauce

I may or may not be breaking your trust with me right now. In the last post, I mentioned that this next one would be about a lobster. A fresh, straight from the tank, into the pot, then onto the grill crustacean, within a week. Yet here I am, days late and a dollar short, and my hands are empty with a lobster story!

We’ve had some things going on here in Brooklyn. As you may recall from my Memorial Day post, here on Powers Street, USA, we’re big believers in America. We love it! It should come as no surprise that Independence Day goes over big-time with us. Lots of grilling, lots of daytime drinking and all the fixings throughout this long weekend – blueberry muffins at breakfast, classic potato salad at lunch, fireworks over the East River (where they belong) at dinner.

After my mom went home and we all dried out, our just-serviced air conditioner decided that it didn’t feel like turning on anymore. This was before our building elevator had broken down two days before the Fourth and our condo board waited to call in the repair sometime afterwards, and after all five of our windows were leaking from summer thunderstorms. Then, there was a whole "we're tired of living in a terribly constructed building with awful management and here's a great place to buy in our price range!" anxiety attack straight after the holiday. As in, Frank and I found a place pretty close to our dream home including all the grand luxuries we Brooklynites could hope for - washing machine, outdoor space, parking, storage, all in a not-quite-yet-gentrified area. We spent all waking hours pretty much in knots over what to do for a week. In the end, we decided to stay put with a new plan - pray there's a kind senior-aged neighbor in our current hood who offers us first dibs at their rowhome fixer-upper so we can proudly carry on the Italian heritage that once overruled the area.

Until then, I'll keep on cranking out pasta in our little kitchen. And although I promised a story about lobster, I'll get to it. But by the time the next Friday rolled around, our bellies and our brains needed something simple, satisfying and heartwarming - meatballs. The only thing to eat when you need a meal to literally hug you around the waist.

Some people make the same spaghetti and meatballs year-in, year-out, year-round. Some people won't even try other people's meatballs! How predictably boring, and how nearsighted they must be. I am not either of those people. All food is seasonal, and what better way to gain inspiration than by trying new things, right? You wouldn't eat a BLT in the middle of February just as you wouldn't serve an all beef, baseball sized meatball in the middle of the summer.

You would, however, grill meatballs and dress them with a light red sauce.

News flash: my husband is Italian. Our last name is ten letters long and contains just as many vowels as it does consonants. When he found out that I regularly make pasta (do I need to even say from scratch?), that was it. I simply would not be given any other choice in life than to marry him and cook for him until death do us part.

Lucky for me, I’m super happy about how this ultimatum worked out, because there are plenty of meals to cook, and endless ways to make spaghetti and meatballs. And Frank seems to love all of them. (Or anything else I make, for that matter.) So when our Friday rolled around, I popped into the cheese shop down the street, first to ask for a selection that would complement my menu, and second to remind myself that I couldn’t possibly have moved to Bushwick and live so far away from my favorite store on earth! Then it was straight home to wash my face and change into normal-people clothes for our big night of hanging out at home…our home. The one far, far away from the work-week borough of Manhattan (90 seconds), and one that has all the parts we so lovingly worked on together (little home improvement projects, hauling American made furniture into our door, puppydogs at our feet).

I had decided on the classic meatball – equal parts beef, pork and veal. I tend to shy away from beef in my meatballs in general, as they can become a bit heavy, but when I do include it, there's a rich flavor that balances out the fat of the pork and the lightness of the veal.

I combined the meat with panko bread crumbs, and an egg, then seasoned with salt and pepper and a smidge of fresh chives and basil from the garden. I rolled them out to about the size of golf balls, mainly because we own this most important grill accessory, which is really all you need if your last name is ten letters long and ends in a vowel. This little meatball rack is super handy, because it keeps everything from rolling around and requires just a single flip.

Meanwhile, I had started on the sauce, which would be light and simple. I heated a small bit of butter in the saucepan, then added two sliced cipollini* onions to sautee. Seaoned and smelling amazing, I added the pint of sungold** tomatoes, roughly chopped. After a few minutes, I touched the sauce up with a dot of concentrated tomato paste and more salt and pepper.

Things were looking up. The past two weeks were behind us and as the sun started to set, Frank and I were happily enjoying our libations and antipasti, the memories of conversations with kooky condo people far in the past. Our nuggets were sitting by the open terrace doors and enjoying the breeze.

While I turned the pasta dough into angel hair, Frank lit the grill and prepped the meatballs. Rolling them in olive oil before placing them into the grill basket not only provides a crisp char, it also prevents them from sticking to the frame once they’re ready. While he handled the grill, I finished up the salad. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but as I write this two weeks later, I have to say it was a pretty special one. I found fresh garbanzo beans at the market – what?! The pods were pale green as were the actual beans. I don’t recall if I blanched them first…maybe? Anyway, they went into a salad with raw, shaved Brussels sprouts, dragon tongue beans and sliced almonds.

As we know, angel hair can only handle a few seconds in boiling water, so in it went, out it came, and then I dished up our homey feast. Man! The smokiness of the meatballs shone through the sauce, which had deepened slightly in color but was still light as could be. The garbanzo salad was crunchy and held a great acidic flavor from the dressing.

It hadn’t felt that good to be home in a while. The entire evening was a nice reminder that when life gives you lemons, make a vodka lemonade, eat some seasonal Italian food, and all will be right with the world.

*Cipollini onions are cute as a button and not much larger. They're miniature and disk-shaped with a milder taste than larger varieties.

**Sungold tomatoes are a type of cherry tomato - sweet, tiny and pale orange in color!

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