I don’t think I’ve met a meatball I didn’t like, but once in a while, one has surprised me. Sometimes I’m smitten by an unusual meat blend, or maybe an unexpected spice. Recently, it was a surprise ingredient that got me: For enhanced richness, nuttiness, and pleasant texture in your meatballs, throw in some toasted pine nuts.
If you’re already doing this, brava. For some reason, destiny waited until now to reveal to me the secret wonder of pine nuts in meatballs. I recently purchased a giant meatball (pretty much a meat baseball) from my local Italian shop, Brancaccio’s, where I get my weekly fix of red sauce-laden goodies. They were upfront about it—the label indicated the thing included both raisins and pine nuts—so my interest was piqued. The meatball was fantastic, and I couldn’t get over the distinct, yet subtle characteristics the pine nuts added to the mix. (You might be thinking, “What about the raisins?” Well, I’m not a huge raisin gal in the best of circumstances, so suffice to say of those two ingredients, I’m adding pine nuts and pine nuts only to my meatballs.)
Pine nuts are the seeds of a few specific species of pine tree, and are used in recipes for pesto and the utterly delicious pignoli cookie. Aside from the richness provided by the pine nut’s natural oils, they lend a detectable note of resin, sweetness, and…hay. (Is it too late to become a seed sommelier?) These attributes make it a surprisingly flexible ingredient, which is why it works in everything from savory sauces to cookies. The texture of the pignoli is much softer than many other seeds and nuts, which is why it goes so nicely in a meatball, where you don’t necessarily want to encounter any hard, crunchy bits. Pine nuts are toothsome but not brittle, and the pop of flavor they release is downright crave-worthy.
If you’re hesitant to include toasted pine nuts in your meatball mix, at least try sprinkling a few on top of your next pasta dish and see how you like the flavors they impart. The recipe below includes a heavy helping of the title ingredient, but feel free to adjust it according to your palate.
Pine Nut Meatballs
- 5 ounces ground beef
- 3 ounces ground pork
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped (I used Trader Joe’s pre-toasted pine nuts.)
- 1 teaspoon dry basil
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (substitute ⅛ teaspoon dry thyme)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon umami seasoning
Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil into a medium sauteuse, or any wide pan or pot.
In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Scoop and roll out small meatballs, about tablespoon sized, and arrange them on a plate until all of the mixture has been shaped.
Swirl the olive oil over medium heat until it thinly coats the bottom of the pan. Arrange the meatballs at the bottom of the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for about five minutes, or until the meatballs take on a bit of color at the bottoms. Stir them once so they cook on another side for a couple minutes. Give the meatballs another stir until they’ve browned lightly on most sides and are cooked through. Enjoy in any of the ways meatballs can be eaten.
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