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The Oscars are upon us! And that means an excuse to crack open a bottle of wine and dine on delicious hors d’oeuvre as we recline in elegant evening attire. Or it’s an excuse to crash on the couch with tasty snacks and a nice glass of wine as you explain to your friends and family why your favorite movie was slighted so horribly: “You see, the only reason that ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ didn’t win best picture is because…” Or maybe it means it’s a night to leave the TV off, and curl up with the book that was WAY better than the movie adaptation, and everyone knows the best beverage to sip as you sit secure in your scholastic superiority is a nice red wine. One we recently tried and enjoyed was Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a Coastal California wine that packs a pretty bold punch – in a good way. Like, you don’t need to sniff and sip and wonder what the heck you’re supposed to be tasting. Nope, this is a wine I can drink and enjoy without a lot of fuss. And you know what goes along really nicely with wine? Meatball Parmesan Cups! So here we present your perfect party plan: a delicious app and a hearty vino to make your evening complete.
That’s a Tasty Meatball!
As you’ve seen before, we like our meatballs around these parts. They’re quick and easy, and provide a nice little package bursting with flavor. These Meatball Parmesan Cups are a bit more traditional than our last recipe, but just as delicious. While we often serve them atop pasta or spaghetti squash with a nice red sauce, they also are the prefect portion size for appetizers. That, and the ease with which you can make them ahead of time, make them a great option for parties. You can even make them up weeks in advance and keep them in the freezer to save yourself some stress!
Assembly is pretty much a case of “everybody in the pool” with a just a couple added steps. Before you start, you’ll whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper (I think it distributes them more evenly), and let the breadcrumbs soak up the milk (giving added moisture to them, which is great if they are going to sit for a little bit as your guests arrive). But once that is complete, toss everything in a big bowl and mix. It’s important to remember not to mash the meat too aggressively as you mix it. Try to use more of your fingers than the palms of your hands to break the meat up and incorporate it. As ever, you may want to don a pair of disposable gloves to both keep the cleanup easier, and prevent the heat from your hands from melting the fat in the meat. Once everything is mixed, portion and roll into balls about the size of a golf ball. You’re looking for something that will disappear in a bite or two. Here again, use some restraint in rolling them out: enough pressure to keep them together, but so much as to make them into meat marbles. Once that’s done, you can either bake them immediately, or stash them in the fridge for later. If you are making them a ways in advance, I would store them in a sealable container, with wax paper in between layers before, and place them in the freezer. Just take them out the night before to thaw in the fridge.
Baking is a snap: 400 degree oven and a baking dish. If you have room, leave some space between the meatballs – this will result in greater browning. But if you’ve got a big crowd, you can put them right next to each other – just know that they will take a little bit longer to cook that way. I would check them at around the 20 minute mark – you’re looking for an internal temperature of 160 degrees. And if they look to be browning a little too much before the internals are done, drop the heat to around 325 until they finish.
While you cook your Meatball Parmesan Cups, go ahead and pour yourself some wine. I’m usually more of a beer drinker, but I have to say cooking with a glass of wine makes me feel gosh-darn classy.
Have you forgotten to pick up your wine? For shame! Well, I’ll share a secret with you – we’ve been known to run into Walgreens for a bottle when we’re short on time and not in the mood to hit up a mega-liquor store. And quite honestly, that’s exactly what we did last weekend after a busy day of running errands and an imminent birthday party to attend. It was an easy option: birthday card and wine, done! And if you’re one of those people who chooses a bottle based on its label (guilty!), Robert Mondavi Private Selection makes a good showing. It’s got a dark, bold label – nothing too girly – and I think it matches the style of the wine. Always a bonus.
Go ahead and pop that cork before the guests arrive – gotta keep the cook happy!
A Lovely Cheese Dish…
So now you have these lovely meatballs, but if your guests are sporting tuxes and elbow length gloves (hey, it can happen), they probably won’t want to eat them with their fingers. And sure, you could serve them impaled upon a toothpick, but why do that when you have the option to present them in an edible vessel made of cheese?
This idea comes courtesy of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”. It’s a nifty little trick that takes a little practice, but looks and tastes great. First thing you need to do is grate some parmesan cheese. Through some trial and error, I have come to recommend going with your basic, store brand parmesan, rather than a three-year old, cave aged parmesan reggiano that then went on to study at the finest Istituzione di Formaggio. Also, you want to use the right size holes on your grater. Typically, a four-sided box grater will have the following: slicer, large grate, small grate, and what I would call “star grate”, where instead of holes, it looks more like the material was punched through (I use that for grating ginger, and not much else). You want the small holes (not the tiny ones) for this application.
You will place a tablespoon of grated cheese on a silpat or parchment lined rimmed baking sheet, and then flatten the mounds of cheese into a small disc. You will probably need to try a few before you find out how much to spread it out. Then it goes into the oven to get all hot and bubbly. Now, the next step is going to involve handling hot cheese, so you need to move quickly and (more importantly) carefully. Use an offset spatula to lift the cheese disc off the pan (it should hold together without tearing) and place in muffin tin. You will probably need to push the cheese towards the bottom so it assumes a cup-like shape. Keep in mind that the cheese on the pan is cooling as you do this, so move quickly, and you probably don’t want to attempt more than six at a time. Once fully cool, gently remove the cups, load with a meatball and a little sauce (key word: “little” – these are cheese cups, not bowls), and serve to your adoring guests.
We hope that you give this recipe for Meatball Parmesan Cups a shot at your Oscar Party, or next gathering, even if that gathering is just you and your significant other. And if they don’t applaud you for the food, just pass them another glass of wine. The applause will follow.
Do you have any Oscars Party plans? Need to make some? Check out our appetizers and snacks for menu ideas, and then browse some more options from Robert Mondavi Private Selection for a solid wine pairing. Enjoy!
- 1 lb ground beef (I prefer 80%/20% lean for this application)
- 1 lb Italian sausage (I prefer hot, but you can use mild or sweet if you wish)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs Italian Seasoning
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ⅓ cup milk
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
- ½ cup of parmesan cheese, grated with the small holes of a 4 sided box grater*
- 1 cup of marinara sauce (store bought or homemade is fine)
- Handful of chopped basil or rosemary
- Extra parmesan
- Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper and set aside.
- Mix the milk and breadcrumbs in a large bowl, and allow the milk to be absorbed.
- Add the meat, breaking it into large pieces with your hands.
- Add the herbs, cheese, and egg mixture and mix gently with your hands. You'll be tempted to really squish everything together, but try to resist and mix just until everything is evenly incorporated
- Roll the meatballs into portions about the size of a golfball. At this point, you can hold them in the fridge or freeze them for later.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a muffin pan aside for later.
- Grate the cheese using the small holes of a 4 sided box grater. The size of the holes is very important.
- Place a silpat mat, or a sheet of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Place the cheese into 1 teaspoon mounds with a few inches in between. You should be able to fit about six onto a sheet. Use a spoon the spread each teaspoon of cheese into a flat circle. Some small holes in your cheese coverage are okay, but you want a fairly solid pool.
- Place the sheet in the oven, and bake for 5-8 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
- Working QUICKLY, use an offset spatula to lift the pieces of cheese and set them gently in the muffin pan so the edges curl up to make a cup. They won't perfectly conform, but you're just going for a cup-like shape. Leave them cups to cool and solidify.
- Gently remove the cups for later use. Keep in a cool place so they don't melt (the counter is fine, but maybe not right next to the oven or rangetop)
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Grease a 9x13 baking dish.
- Place the meatballs in the dish. Try to leave some separation between them
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the internal temperature registers 160 degrees.
- Remove the meatballs from the dish (they'll be a fair amount of grease) and set onto paper towels. At this point, you can also move them to a clean dish and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
- Place a meatball in a parmesan cup, top with a small dollop of marinara sauce, and garnish as you wish with more parmesan cheese, chopped basil, or chopped rosemary. Make sure you don't go too heavy on the sauce, as the cups are not watertight.
- Serve to your happy guests!
Parmesan Cups barely adapted from Food Network