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Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonta




Bob Dylan called it in 1964: the times they are a changin’.  Earlier this week, Conde Nast announced that Gourmet magazine would no longer be published after almost 69 years of exceptional food writing*.  This is truly the end of an era in the world of food, and journalism as well.  The recipes of Gourmet have been a little highfalutin for my kitchen, however it has sets the pace in the culinary world for at-home cooks, even if it is indirect.  It is a magazine I actually subscribe to, and I have spent many hours leafing through its glossy pages.  In honor of Gourmet and its departure, I made a recipe from the August 2009 issue: Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata**.
This recipe epitomizes the appeal of Gourmet.  The dish employs a classic concept and refreshes it in a manner I would have never dreamed of myself.  Italian meatballs are generally prepared one way: in a red sauce served over pasta.  I would never have dared to alter such a dish because it is so lusciously perfect in its classic preparation.  However, Gourmet found a way to alter the classic that is different to the point where you won’t miss the original, yet its fundamental nature hits your palate and your soul in the same way.  The few changes I made are in italics.
Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata**
For peperonata:
                        3 red bell peppers, cut into strips
                        1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
                        1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
                        1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
                        1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or up to a half teaspoon)
For meatballs:
                        3 slices Italian bread, torn into pieces (1 cup)
                        1/3 cup milk
                        3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
                        1 small onion, finely chopped
                        1 small garlic clove, minced
                        2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
                        1 large egg
                        1 pound ground chicken
                        1 ounce finely grated parmesan
                        3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
                        1 tablespoon tomato paste
Make peperonata: 
Preheat oven to 400°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.
Toss bell peppers with 1 tablespoon oil, then roast in a 4-sided sheet pan in lower third of oven, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 35 minutes.
Stir together capers, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl and set aside.
Make meatballs while peppers roast: 
Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about 4 minutes.
Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes.  Cool slightly.
Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, pancetta mixture, another generous sprinkle of salt, parmesan, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan.
Stir together tomato paste and remaining tablespoon oil and brush over meatballs, then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Toss bell peppers with caper mixture. Serve meatballs with peperonata.
Comments:  The meatballs practically rendered me speechless.  They are a savory delight, without being too heavy.  The tomato paste-olive oil glaze colors them beautifully and adds a palatable tang.  No need for a brush; I simply dabbed it on with a fork.  I think the cheese is a nice addition, but I am unconditionally biased in favor of cheese.  Next time, I will prepare a double batch of these meatballs.  The leftovers were divine in every capacity (reheated in the microwave, on a sandwich, or cold out of the fridge).  Actually, this recipe would make fabulous meatloaf.  The peperonata was tangy, smoky, and salty.  In fact, I may prepare the peperonta simply to have on hand as a condiment.  Some chopped olives and a conservative amount of garlic would be an appropriate supplement; it could turn an everyday turkey sandwich into a pseudo-muffaletta***. 
This may be one of the simpler recipes of Gourmet, but it exemplifies its breadth.  Thank you, Gourmet, for making such an immeasurable contribution to foodies everywhere. 
*Hear the story on the Takeaway of Public Radio International and WNYC
**See the original recipe at Epicurious.com
***See Glossary for definitions


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