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Recipe: Lighter, brighter meatballs

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                Skillet meatballs with peaches, basil and lime. Quickly made in a skillet with ripe peaches, basil and lime juice, these meatballs are perfect for weeknights.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    Skillet meatballs with peaches, basil and lime. Quickly made in a skillet with ripe peaches, basil and lime juice, these meatballs are perfect for weeknights.

Meatballs are savory, versatile and easy, but they are definitely not what comes to mind when I think of “seasonal cooking.”

Maybe it is their long-term relationship with red sauce and spaghetti. Hearty and crowd-pleasing, yes. Buoyant for warm days, not so much.

But these meatballs turn everything on its head.

With fresh basil, ground cumin and ginger, they are heady and complex. But it is the quick pan sauce that really sets them apart. The combination of ripe peaches and plenty of lime juice gives them a tangy brightness that is refreshing enough for even the most sultry late-summer nights, along with all the seasonal credibility they could ever need.

Really, it is the panful of peach drippings that makes this dish shine. It is worth buying the fruit ahead of time, and letting it soften and sweeten for a few days. Or, if you already have bruised, overripe fruit leaking nectar all over your counter, this is the recipe for you.

Just cut out any obviously browned spots before throwing the rest of the peach flesh into the skillet, where it will dissolve amid a bath of wine and the aromatic drippings from the meatballs to create the sauce.

As a rule, I don’t peel peaches because the fuzz doesn’t bother me. Fuzz haters can peel as they like. A sharp paring knife generally gets the job done more quickly and efficiently than a vegetable peeler. Or substitute fuzz-free nectarines, which are arguably superior to peaches anyway.

When peach season wanes and plum season kicks into high gear, you can substitute diced plums, holding back slightly on the lime juice to make up for their tannic, puckery skins.

Then, as fresh stone fruit disappears, you can use frozen peaches. Make sure to thaw and drain them before dicing and adding to the pan.

Of course, using frozen peaches does mean these meatballs would no longer be strictly seasonal fare. But no one will be sad to gobble them up when winter arrives.

YOU CAN make the meatballs with any kind of ground meat. Even vegan meat will work quite well. Pork, with its brawny, rich flavor, is my favorite, with dark meat turkey or chicken as close runners-up.

SKILLET MEATBALLS WITH PEACHES, BASIL AND LIME

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons finely grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin, plus more for serving
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound ground pork (or turkey or chicken, or vegan meat)
  • 1/3 cup panko or other plain breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus basil leaves for serving
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons wine (dry white, rosé or red), or use broth, orange juice or water
  • 2 cups diced ripe peaches or nectarines (about 3)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced white or red onion, or scallions
  • 1 lime, halved
  • White rice or coconut rice, rice noodles, or crisp salad greens, for serving

In a large bowl, mix together ginger, garlic, cumin and salt. Add pork, panko and basil. Using your hands, gently mix everything together, making sure not to overwork the mixture or meatballs will get tough. Form into 1-1/4-inch balls.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high, then add oil and let it heat until it thins out. Add meatballs in a single layer. Cook, turning and shaking pan, until meatballs are browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes.

Pour wine into skillet and move meatballs over to one side of pan, scraping up any browned bits on bottom.

Add peaches, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons water to empty side of pan. When peaches are simmering, cover pan, lower heat to medium, and let cook until meatballs are no longer pink at their centers, and peaches are juicy and tender, about 5 to 10 minutes longer.

Uncover pan. If mixture seems too runny, let it cook down for another minute or so. The peaches should break down into a chunky sauce. Hard or unripe peaches may take a few extra minutes.

Add onions to pan and mix them in so they wilt slightly. Squeeze lime juice all over everything, then taste and add salt and lime juice, as needed. Sweeter peaches will need more lime juice, tart ones, less.

Serve meatballs sprinkled with more cumin and garnished with torn basil leaves, over rice or greens. Serves 3 to 4.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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