Warm and comforting meat-and-potatoes supper ideal for fall

Wolfgang Puck Tribune Content Agency Published October 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tribune Content Agency

Feel free to season the meatball mixture anyway you like.

We’re a good month into autumn now, the start of a time of year I sometimes think of as meat-and-potatoes season. The darker, cooler evenings feel perfect for casual dinners of comforting, easy-to-make recipes featuring these robust ingredients.

One of my favorite ways to cook these two favorite ingredients is to combine meatballs with mashed potatoes. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet, there’s no end to the great variety of main courses you can prepare from that basic starting point.

The meatballs can be made with ground beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, sausage meat or any combination of those that sound good to you. Just be sure to ask your butcher for meat that’s coarsely ground because the resulting meatballs will have more texture and better flavor, and won’t turn out as dense as those made from very finely ground meat. You can also use fairly lean meat because the breadcrumbs and sauteed onion in the mixture here will help keep the meatballs juicy. And speaking of juiciness, the cooking method I share here — first browning the meatballs on the stove top, then finishing them in the oven — will help you produce perfectly cooked results.

Feel free to season the meatballs anyway you like. Here, I use an assortment of savory spices and herbs, including the option of hot paprika and some red-pepper flakes, if you’d like the mixture even spicier. But you could also use your own combination of seasonings to give the mixture an Asian flavor, or Italian, or Mexican, to name just a few options.

The same goes for the mashed potatoes. Here, I keep them fairly simple, enriching the puree with a little butter and cream, and seasoning it with just some salt, freshly ground pepper and a hint of nutmeg. Instead, you could brown the butter first in a small saute pan or saucepan before folding it in, to give the potatoes a distinctively nutty richness. For a spicier effect, try whisking in a dab or two of Japanese wasabi paste for a beautiful pale green color to go with the subtle heat; or a spoonful of prepared white horseradish; or some mashed-up chipotle chilies canned in adobo sauce. Or add a little grated cheese, sour cream and chopped chives — and, for a real indulgence, some crumbled crispy bacon to get mashed potatoes that taste like a stuffed baked potato.

The crispy onions that accompany the mashed-potato recipe here make a perfect garnish that ties the meat and potatoes together in both flavor and texture. The onions are that extra little comforting touch that will have your family and friends declaring this simple dinner one of the best of the season.

ROASTED SPICY MEATBALLS ON CREAMY MASHED POTATOES WITH CRISPY ONIONS

Serves 4

Creamy Mashed Potatoes With Crispy Onions (recipe follows)

Ingredients:

1 or 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 pound coarsely ground beef

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, optional

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:

Begin making the Creamy Mashed Potatoes With Crispy Onions (recipe follows) just before you start preparing the meatballs.

In a small skillet, heat the 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute, stirring occasionally, just until wilted. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ground beef with the sauteed onion, egg, breadcrumbs, cilantro, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, rosemary and red-pepper flakes to taste. Mix thoroughly. With clean hands, form the mixture into 20 balls, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, putting them on a clean plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in each of 1 or 2 ovenproof skillets large enough to hold the meatballs in a single layer. Add the meatballs, and brown them on all sides, turning them gently with a wooden spoon or a spatula, about 5 minutes. Transfer the skillet or skillets to the oven, and roast for about 10 minutes longer, until the meatballs are firm and nicely browned on the outside but still juicy and tender inside.

To serve, spoon a bed of mashed potatoes into the center of four warmed serving plates. Arrange the meatballs on top, and garnish with the crispy onions and the parsley. Serve immediately.

CREAMY MASHED POTATOES WITH CRISPY ONIONS

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

6 tablespoons heavy cream

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

Vegetable oil, for frying

1/2 pound small to medium yellow onions, thinly sliced into rings

All-purpose flour, for dusting

Directions:

Fill a saucepan with lightly salted cold water. Add the potato chunks, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil the potatoes until tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

When the potatoes are almost done, gently warm the cream in a small saucepan.

Mash the potatoes by pressing them through a ricer or turning them through a food mill into a stainless-steel bowl. Add the cream and butter and, with a sturdy spoon, briskly stir them in. Season to taste with salt, white pepper and just a little nutmeg. Set the stainless-steel bowl over a pan of simmering water to keep the potatoes warm.

Meanwhile, in a deep, heavy saucepan, heat about 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer (or use an automatic countertop deep-fryer). Spread some flour on a plate, and turn the onion rings in the flour to coat them lightly. Lift up the onions, shake gently to remove excess flour, and carefully drop them into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon (or the deep-fryer basket), carefully remove the rings and drain on a clean towel. Season lightly with salt. Serve with the mashed potatoes.

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