Game day herb meatballs with spicy sauce

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I love football. I love biting my nails, wondering how things are going to go, and cheering on my home team. (GO PATS!! You can take the girl out of New England, but you can NEVER take the New England out of the girl!) Sometimes, I just want some tasty tailgating type treats to munch on while I watch the game. These fit the bill perfectly. The meatballs have a subtly earthy herby flavor, and the sauce has a WICKED kick from the vinegar and red pepper flakes. These can be prepped ahead of time, the partially cooked meatballs can be put in the fridge and finished the day of, or the raw patties can be frozen for another time. (As can the sauce!) I apologize in advance, for some reason I had some sort of mental break when I went to make the sauce, and it’s a bit… scarce on the picture front. Feel free to play with the heat in these as well. If atomic fire breathing hot is your bag **ahemJIMahem** then go for it.

These meatballs should be finished right before eating… They are tasty when reheated, but the texture isn’t as good if eating right after baking. There are a few different options to prep them ahead of time and cook at the last minute however, so it’s a nice thing to have kicking around.

The Ingredients (Meatball version):

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– 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley. (You can use dried, just use half, but really, the fresh make all the difference here)

– 1 tablespoon rosemary

– 2 to 3 tablespoons basil (all my herbs are a little light… I should have added more, but this was what I had)

– 3 large or 6 small garlic cloves, peeled

– 1/4 c almonds (these can be omitted, but they add a bit of heft and crunch to the meatballs, and a bit of a toothsome quality)

– 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

– 2 eggs

– 2 lbs meat

– olive oil

The Ingredients (Sauce Version):

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– 1 to 2 tablespoons parsley

– 1 to 2 tablespoons rosemary

– 1 to 2 tablespoons basil

– 1/2 onion, cut into sections

– 4 large garlic cloves

– 1 tablespoon tomato paste

– 4 cups tomatoes. (I used whole in sauce, which wasn’t at ALL what I meant to grab, but whatever.)

– 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes

– 1/4 c vinegar (this seems like a lot, but once it cooks down, it’s SO tasty)

– pepper and LOTS of salt

The Hardware:

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– Food processor (This’ll need to be washed/ rinsed between the meatballs and the sauce)

– Mixing bowl

– Pan **NOTE: I used a frying pan, but this was a BAD. CHOICE. Don’t be like me, and use a good sized pot. I should have used my normal dutch oven. Seriously, do that instead.)

– Rubber spatula (I ended up using two, but one can just be rinsed.)

– Tongs

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– Sheet pan to bake meatballs

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First things first, pop the almonds into the food processor.

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Pulse away. Don’t go crazy here, or else the almonds will turn into almond butter. While tasty, that isn’t what is needed here.

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Instead, go for a crumb constancy.

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Add the almonds to the mixing bowl…

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And throw the meat on top.

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No need to rinse the bowl of the processor, at this point. Throw the garlic and the herbs in there…

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And pulse the heck out of them. (um, weird sunspot type things here… I have no idea where those came from… I had picture taking issues, clearly)

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Add the red pepper flakes to the bowl of the processor…

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And two eggs.

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Pulse the eggs and herbs together into a frothy mess.

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It’ll actually look kinda pretty.

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Dump the egg mixture on top of the meat…

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and don’t forget to scrape all the herbs chunks out of the bowl of the processor!

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Okay, not so pretty anymore, but it’ll be worth it in the end!

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Mix together the almonds, meat, and eggy herb mixture. Make sure to mix well, get all the almond from the bottom. Hands really are the best tool for this.

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NOW: To form the meatballs. Traditional is fine, nice and round. This is my preferred shape for spaghetti and meatballs.

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However, for dipping and eating separately, I like a disk type shape.

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I like to salt and pepper the meatballs at THIS point, rather then adding it to the mixture. That way, I can be sure each meatball is seasoned well. If there are small herb clumps, that’s fine, adds variety. Small salt clumps, not so much.

NOW!!! Option one is to stick these raw, on a sheet pan, and freeze them. Once they are frozen, throw them into a freezer bag and save them until they are needed. For instance, these are kinda perfect to have in the freezer for unexpected company. The sauce can be made ahead of time as well, and frozen. (Use plain olive oil instead of pan drippings when you get there if making the sauce at this point). To make the meatballs when ready, thaw out the meatballs, and proceed (This also makes it possible to cook a few at a time, instead of the full huge batch. If this is done, remember to freeze the sauce in smaller batches as well).

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To sear the meatballs, add some oil to the pan and let the pan heat up.

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Once the pan is hot, start searing off the meatballs in batches. (Two pounds of meat will make between 35 and 40 meatballs). Make sure not to crowd them too much.

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Put them on the sheet pan.

NOW!!! The second option is to stick the seared meatballs in the fridge for the next day, or a couple days away. (In other words, make them Saturday afternoon, sear them off, and stick them in the fridge. When people start showing up on Sunday, stick them in the oven, and warm up the sauce).

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If they are being eaten the same day they are made, wait until the sauce is well on the way to being cooked, then preheat the oven to 350. (The sauce should simmer for about an hour before sticking the meatballs in). Put the meatballs in when preheated, and let them cook for about 20 minutes…

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Until they are cooked all the way through.

ONTO THE SAUCE!!!

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Pour off most of the grease from searing the meatballs. (If freezing meatballs and sauce, use olive oil here) but leave the brown tasty bits, and a little bit of the grease. Start heating up (slowly, so stuff doesn’t burn)

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Throw the onions and garlic in the rinsed clean food processor bowl…

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And give it a super quick blitz. Just chopping things up a bit. **warning… here is where my pictures start getting a little… sparse.**

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Throw the onion and garlic mixture into the pan, and let them cook together until they are starting to get translucent.

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Put the tomatoes, herbs, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste into the bowl of the blender, and blitz them together.

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Once blended, pour the sauce into the pan… (And THIS is why I should have used a bigger pan)

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Mix everything together in the pan…

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Add the vinegar…

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And the bay leaf. NOW, if you taste the sauce at this point, it will be wicked gross. This really needs to cook for a good hour to work everything together. After an hour, taste the sauce. It’ll need a significant amount of salt, so add that, to taste. (At this point, throw the meatballs into the oven if making the meatballs now) Let the sauce cook for another 20 to 30 minutes.

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The sauce should be nice and thick and chunky.

Almost everything can be done ahead of time, to save you time on game day! Yummy!

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