Grilled Mediterranean Meatballs

Grilled Meatballs 1Just let me put it out there…I LOVE meatballs! I’m not a huge carnivore, but I will eat a good meatball any day of the week. Meatballs are so versatile and I love that all of the hard work can be done ahead of time.  These meatballs have a wonderful Greek flavor profile. Lots of fresh oregano, dill, parsley, and a little mint give them amazing flavor. They are tender and juicy thanks to some plain Greek yogurt and feta cheese. There is a lot of love that goes into these, and it shows through in every bite!

I know we have entered fall and grilling season is behind us, but I lagged just a teeny bit on finishing this post so you are getting it now. Here in southern California, you would NEVER know that summer is behind us. One might think that we are in the DOG DAYS of summer here. Every time I check the forecast, it’s 80’s (and some 90’s) as far as the eye can see. So there is a good chance that plenty of you out there are still in grill mode. If not, be sure and pin this recipe to your “Summer Grilling” board on Pinterest!

Raw meatballsI make these ahead of time and put them on a cookie sheet lined with foil and cover them in plastic wrap so that I can keep them in the fridge until dinner. My husband has mastered the art of grilling these to perfection, which is great because all I have to do is drink wine while he cooks them. I served these babies with with some home made tzatziki (I use Ina Garten’s Tzatziki Recipe…It’s my fave!), my Orzo, Kale, and Spinach Salad, some toasted pita bread, and my Mediterranean salsa! I will post the salsa recipe soon!! If you are melting in this heatwave like we are, this dinner won’t have you sweating in the kitchen.

Meatball dinnerThere are tons of fresh herbs in these, so use your food processor to make quick work of all of the chopping. You will also need it for the pine nuts. Yes, pine nuts! You will grind them up in the food processor so that you have a sort of pine nut paste that adds even more yumminess to the meatballs. I suppose you could leave them out if you are opposed to pine nuts, but I can’t guarantee that they will taste as fabulous. The blend of beef, pork, and veal (aka: The Holy Meat Trilogy) is also key in these. I also think buying organic, grass fed beef and good quality ground pork (whenever possible) makes a big difference.

Meatball dinner 2Don’t skip the tzatziki! Buy it already made if you must (Trader Joe’s is pretty good), but don’t skip it – it is so good on the meatballs. It’s their perfect sauce! The Mediterranean salsa I made was really good on the meatballs as well. That recipe is on its way! This recipe feeds a crowd. I had enough for 8 servings with a few left over. The leftovers made the most amazing little sliders!

meatball sliderI cut the left-over meatballs in half and heated them up in a pan. I put them on a toasted dinner roll with tzatziki and some of my Mediterranean salsa and they were SO delicious! My kids went nuts for them! I think these would be perfect game day fare. No need to wait for left-overs…just make your meatballs slightly smaller and give them a little “smash” before grilling. These sliders would be great to serve up to all of your hungry football watchers!

Grilled Mediterranean Meatballs

For a printable version of this recipe, click here

Serves 8 – 10 people

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped small
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
  • 2/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 bunch of Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves (small handfull)
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh oregano leaves (no stems) OR 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh dill  (remove thick stems) OR 1 tablespoon of dried dill
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 pound veal
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs (I use panko)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. In a medium pan, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and tender. Set aside to cool to room temp.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the greek yogurt, salt & pepper, and whisk them all together until smooth.
  3. Add the pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor with a chopping blade (I use my small one, but any size will work).  Pulse until they form a thick, course paste (don’t over process them…you don’t want them as smooth as peanut butter). Using a rubber spatula, scrape all of the ground pine nuts from the bowl of the food processor into the mixing bowl with the eggs and yogurt.
  4. Add all of your herbs to the food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add all of the herbs to the mixing bowl.
  5. Add the beef, veal and pork to the mixing bowl along with the bread crumbs, cooled onion and garlic, feta, and parmesan cheese. Break up any large chunks of feta with your fingers.
  6. Time to mix! I like to use my hands for this and I wear these disposable gloves. They are perfect for this! You want to gently combine all of the ingredients and incorporate the 3 meats together without over mixing. Your hands really are the best way to get this done. Keep the gloves on after mixing…you can use them when you form the meatballs!
  7. Once everything is thoroughly combined, form into large meatballs (somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball). Keep the meatballs on a cookie sheet or a baking dish in the fridge until you are ready to grill.
  8. Before grilling, drizzle some olive oil over the meatballs and use your hands to make sure they are coated with the oil.
  9. We cook these on a gas grill. Preheat the grill on high and prep your grill by cleaning your grates well and then rubbing them with a  paper towel coated in oil. Put the meatballs over direct heat to sear on all sides –  DON’T turn your meatballs until they pull away from the grill easily. Once they have a nice crust on all sides, turn the grill down to medium heat and move the meatballs off the direct heat to finish cooking. The goal here is to get that crust on the outside to “seal” the meatball and keep it moist on the inside. You want to cook them all the way through, but not let them get too charred. Depending on your grill this can take anywhere from 20 – 30 min. If you have a thermometer, the proper internal temp is 160 degrees.

Grilling Note: If you are a grilling novice (like me) and you are worried about cooking these directly on the grill, you can use a grill pan like the one below to insure they don’t stick to your grate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Orzo, Kale, and Spinach Salad

Orzo Salad 1

This is a great summer salad that goes well with any backyard barbeque or potluck. It’s perfect to make ahead because the kale and spinach are hearty greens that hold up well with dressing. In fact, I think it tastes even better the next day.  I made it to go with my Mediterranean grilled meatballs…that recipe is on the way soon! It would also make a great weeknight dinner with a little grilled chicken on top.

There are a few things that make this dish stand out. The bold flavors of the sun dried tomatoes, olives, and feta really make this salad. I like to buy olives from my grocery store’s olive bar so I can get a couple of different types. It’s nice to be able to buy exactly as much as you need, too.  A really good feta also makes a difference.

I love Pastures of Eden which is sold at my local Trader Joe’s. It’s an imported sheep’s milk feta and it is mellow and delicious. Even my husband likes it and he is not a big fan of feta cheese.

This recipe really feeds a crowd. We served it to company and had leftovers for lunch…yum! You can cut it in half or just use less pasta if you don’t need as much. It keeps really well for a few days in the fridge. I promise you, if you serve this salad at your next summer gathering…your family and friends will think you are a culinary genius!

Orzo Salad 2

Orzo, Kale, and Spinach Salad

Serves 8 – 10

Orzo, Kale, and Spinach Salad Printable Recipe Link

Ingredients:

Salad:

  • 1 lb of orzo pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • one bunch of dinosaur kale (also called Lacinato or Tuscan kale), ribs removed and chopped
  • 12 ounces baby spinach, chopped
  • one red bell pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cup of assorted olives of your choice (I used a combo of green and kalamata), sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (I like the kind in olive oil)
  • handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts

Lemon Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil

Directions:

Make the lemon vinaigrette first by combining all of the ingredients and mixing well. Slowly whisking in the olive oil at the end makes for a nicely emulsified dressing that won’t separate. But…you can always throw everything in a small mason jar and shake it really well! Just remember to shake it again before dressing your salad.

Cook the orzo in a large pot of salted boiling water until it is just al dente. I like to cook it just a minute less than it needs so that it still has a little bite once it has absorbed the dressing. Drain the orzo, add it to a large salad bowl, and toss it with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil so that it does not stick together. Let it cool down to room temp. Add the rest of the ingredients and the dressing and mix well. I like to save a little cheese and some pine nuts to sprinkle over the top before I serve it.


Summer Mediterranean Feast!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend a fabulous afternoon at the home of some good friends enjoying some beautiful California sunshine. The occasion was a 40th birthday celebration for another good friend and I had the privilege of planning the menu for the day. We settled on a Mediterranean theme and it truly was a feast. It was a group effort and all of the dishes were so good. So good, in fact…that I decided I must do a blog post so that I can remember how simple and delicious this menu was. So much of this menu can be done ahead of time that is perfect for entertaining!

Not only was the food good, but the company was even better. Great friends that I don’t get to see enough. All of this on a beautiful deck in Laguna Beach with a ridiculous view of the ocean. Not a bad way to spend your Sunday afternoon. Thanks Ilana & Mike!

I will give you the run down…try not to drool on your keyboard (or whatever device you happen to be reading this on).

From the grill we had an assortment of gourmet sausages from Whole Food’s Market. They were delicious and cook up so quick and easy. We also had some grilled Lemon Chicken Skewers that we served with Tzatziki Sauce. The chicken is a simple recipe that I love from Ina Garten (AKA: The Barefoot Contessa, and one of my cooking idols). Her recipe is served with a satay dip, which is also delicious.

On the side we had an Orzo Salad with cucumber, roasted red pepper, green olives, artichoke hearts, and lots of fresh herbs in a lemony dressing. (see recipe below)…

A Green and Yellow Bean Salad with a Chunky Tomato Dressing

And these fabulous little Sweet Peppers Stuffed with Ricotta, Pancetta, and Spinach (see recipe below). These little buggers are serious Juicy Bites!

Everything was delicious and we got to enjoy it all on a deck overlooking the ocean. Here are a few more pictures from my fun afternoon…

The Birthday Girl and her hubby. I know…she doesn’t look like she could POSSIBLY be 40 🙂

The hostess with the mostess!

Nibbling on a stuffed pepper

Yep…that’s the ocean in the background.

My awesome girl friends 🙂

Orzo Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound orzo pasta – cooked to al dente
  • 1 can artichoke hearts – drained and quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper – roasted (jarred roasted red pepper is fine too)
  • 1 cup of sliced green olives
  • 1 hot house cucumber – seeded and chopped
  • half of a red onion – chopped small
  • 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • lemon vinaigrette – see recipe below
  • 1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped oregano
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. This salad gets better after a couple of hours in the fridge, and can be made one day in advance.

Lemon Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil

Whisk the lemon juice, mustard, salt and garlic together. Add the olive oil slowly while whisking to blend and emulsify.

Mini Sweet Peppers Stuffed with Ricotta, Spinach, and Pancetta

Ingredients:

  • Non-Stick cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 10 ounces of frozen spinach – thawed and excess water squeezed out
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 24 (2 to 3-inch long) sweet baby peppers

Directions

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and set aside. *See tip below.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until brown and crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and drain on paper towels. Add the onion to the pan and cook until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the onion, pancetta, cheeses, and spinach. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Using a paring knife, cut 1/2-inch from the stem-end of the peppers. Remove the seeds and veins. Using a small spoon, fill each pepper with the ricotta mixture. Place the filled peppers on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the peppers begin to soften. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.

Arrange the peppers on a platter and serve.

*Tip: If you have mini muffin tins, they work even better than a baking sheet. They keep the peppers propped up so there is less of a chance for filling to escape.