Monday, October 17, 2011

Mini Meatball Sliders with Basil Pesto

There are a lot of things pesto goes well with: pizza; pasta; as a dressing for salad; on a turkey sandwich. But adding it in addition to a marinara sauce was new to me. If it's a new concept for you as well, let me tell you, it's delicious.

The marinara sauce alone is a great reason to make this sandwich. It's honestly one of the best homemade sauces I've ever had. Whether it's the blend of ingredients, the length of time it simmers, or the fact that the meatballs are actually cooked in the sauce that make it so good, I'm not sure. All I know is that I want to eat it by the spoonful, find bread to dip in it, and may have done a mini happy dance when I realized there would be leftovers for another meal.

On to the meatballs: I was a bit skeptical of cooking the meatballs in the sauce. Would they be cooked all the way through? Would I miss the browning on the outside? I should not have worried. They turned out delicious, and were cooked all the way through. The only change I would make to the meatballs would be a bit more seasoning. They were good, but a little crushed red pepper flakes, or a little more of the garlic/basil combo would not have been a bad thing.

The total cook time on this is a little daunting as the sauce simmers for just under two hours, but it's a lot of inactive, hands off time. And trust me, totally worth it.

Two of these sandwiches with some chips and a salad made a great dinner, but I could just as easily see making these to snack on while watching some football, or having friends over. You can easily freeze any leftover sauce to pull out for a quick spaghetti dinner. It's really something special.

Mini Meatball Sliders with Basil Pesto 
Yield: Approx. 20 sliders

For the sauce:
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz.) can tomato puree
  • 1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • Water (optional)

For the meatballs:
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs, divided (I like panko)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • ½ tsp. dried basil

For the pesto:
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 small cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. pine nuts
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the sliders:
  • About 2 dozen white dinner rolls
  • Spray olive oil
  • Sliced provolone cheese (about 12 slices, depending on size)

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion to the pot and sauté until tender, 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, stirring, about 1 minute.  Add the tomato puree, tomato sauce, parsley, basil, oregano, salt and sugar.  Add water to thin the sauce out to your desired consistency.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Let simmer for at least 2 hours.

To make the meatballs, combine ¼ cup of the breadcrumbs with the milk in a medium mixing bowl.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Add the remaining breadcrumbs, ground beef, egg, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and basil to the bowl.  Mix well until thoroughly combined.  Form into meatballs, about 1¼ inches in diameter.  Add the meatballs to the simmering sauce about 45 minutes before the sauce is finished. Cover and let simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 35-45 minutes.

To make the pesto, combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until finely chopped.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube until well incorporated.  Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the grated Parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the sliders, preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Slice the dinner rolls in half and lay open on a baking sheet.  Spray the rolls lightly with olive oil.  Bake for 5 minutes, just until lightly toasted.  Slice a cooked meatball in half and place both halves on the bottom portion of a roll, flat side down.  Spoon a small amount of sauce over the meatball.  Top with sliced provolone.  Repeat with the remaining rolls.  Bake again, 5 minutes more, just until the cheese is melted.  Spoon a small amount of additional sauce over the provolone, and finish small spoonful of the pesto on top.  Serve immediately.

Source:  Annie's Eats

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