Chile-spiked meatballs from the nation's capital
No longer relegated to the menus of pizza parlors and red-sauce Italian joints, meatballs are suddenly as popular with foodies as Peter Pan collars and polka dots are among the fashion set. At his new Georgetown restaurant, Bandolero, Mike Isabella gives the traditional dish a new taste by spiking Spanish-inspired meatballs with fiery sambal oelek chile sauce. The chef pairs the tender meatballs with a pureed yellow soffritto and unexpected garnishes like pickled onions. At home, you can just as easily make a case for the meatball movement by serving them with a simple tomato sauce.
Spicy Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Recipe adapted from Mike Isabella, Bandolero, Washington, D.C.
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
2 slices white bread, crust removed
¼ cup whole milk
1 large egg
½ pound ground beef (preferably 80 percent lean)
½ pound ground pork
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons sambal oelek
Zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups tomato sauce (preferably homemade)
1. In a large skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, soak the bread in the milk for 1 minute. Gently squeeze the bread out and discard any remaining milk.
3. In a large bowl, combine the cooled onions with the bread, egg, beef, pork, mint, sambal oelek, lemon zest, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix together with clean hands until just combined, then divide the mixture into 12 equal-size meatballs.
4. In the large skillet, warm the remaining ¼ cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook until golden brown on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. (You do not need to cook the meatballs all the way through.) Transfer the meatballs to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
5. In a large saucepan, bring the tomato sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Serve immediately or simmer for up to 1 hour before serving.
It's the details that count! Try these tips
Though sambal oelek is an exotic ingredient, this chile-garlic sauce can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores. Isabella’s preferred brand is Tuong Ot Toi Vietnam, a very spicy chile paste sold in Asian markets.
Swap traditional tomato sauce for a minted yogurt sauce, which brings out the meatballs’ Spanish flavors.