Coincidentally, America’s Independence Day is celebrated just one day after the Belarusian one. This is the lucky coincidence for our family as our celebration is now extended for an extra day! Traditionally, both in the USA and Belarus, there is a lot of grilling, eating and drinking involved on this holiday, and indeed there is nothing like spending a summer day outdoors at the grill in a warm company of family of friends. However, for those who don’t have access to grill there are plenty of delightful dishes that can be cooked in the kitchen, satisfy a big crew and are right proper for 4th July. Meatballs, called “katlety” in Belarus, are one of them.
This recipe of meatballs combines two traditions – Belarusian and American Italian. American Italian – using the tomato based sauce to braise the meatballs, and Belarusian – cooking them in the traditional Belarusian clay pots. As an ode to clay pots, they are one of my favorite items in the kitchen. They are perfect for health and environmentally conscious cooks, and magically, all dishes I make in them turn out brilliantly. The secret is that the food inside of the pot stays incredibly moist because it is surrounded by steam, so meat cooked in the clay pot turns out very tender and flavorful. Importantly, they look great and make a great presentation of the dish, so I have them in all colors and shapes possible.
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 1.5 hours | Serves: 6
2 lb ground pork
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup sour cream, crème fraîche or yogurt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup packed Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup packed basil, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tbsp salt
Pepper to taste
2 tbsp lardo
3 bay leaves
3 springs of thyme
For the sauce:
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Take ground pork out of the fridge 30 minutes before starting cooking.
Once meat is room temperature, in a mixing bowl, combine it with onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, sour cream, eggs, paprika, herbs, and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Gently mix until everything is just combined.
Form the meatballs. With wet hands, grab about 1/4 cup of the meatball mix and roll them in balls.
In a large skillet, heat lardo. Brown the meatballs in batches. Do not overcrowd the skillet with meatballs as they will start sweating and won’t brown. Alternatively, you can broil the meatballs in the oven for about 5 minutes. Set the meatballs aside and reserve cooking juices.
Make the sauce. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions and sauté until they start sweating, for about 5-7 minutes. Add carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce in each clay pot. Add the meatballs. Divide the remaining sauce equally between the clay pots and pour it over the meatballs. Pour over the cooking juices reserved in Step 4. In each clay pot, put a spring of thyme and a bay leaf. Three 1/2 quart clay pots are enough for the amount of meatballs made with 2 lb meat.
Preheat the oven to 310°F (155°C). Place the clay pots in the oven and braise for an hour.
When serving, pour the braising juices and tomato sauce over the meatballs. Serve with thyme and garlic roasted potatoes.
If you don’t have clay pots handy, you can use a dutch oven for braising the meatballs. But if you are excited to try cooking in the traditional Belarusian clay pots, shoot me a message and I will help you choose and get them!