Saturday, October 13, 2007

Green Peppercorns: Meatballs in spiced cream

An almost metaphysical question struck me when I discovered an accidentally opened jar of green peppercorns of unknown age taking space in our refrigerator. What on earth to do with them that is not cute or Martha Stewartish? I have a recently graduated student friend who majored at Emory in phylosophy and metaphysics. But aside from making lattes or hosting at Chillies Restaurant while he waits for a grad school slot, he ponders, reportedly, questions of existence. The reality is that I got the peppercorns by accident, thinking they were capers. Now they exist in my fridge, waiting, like a supernumerary philosophy major, and seeking justification for their existence. I can't do much for Matt, but here's my effort at existentially rescuing the peppercorns.

The salvation idea came from the one type of thing I know that uses green peppercorns to advantage, certain French sausages and pâtés. Actually I know some other dishes with green peppercorns, but the peppercorns are fresh and still clustered on their stems: several traditional Thai curries, the kind you find only at open markets being ladeled out of huge pots by large ladies in Bangkok or Chiang Mai for your stunningly good and cheap lunch. But that is not relevant to my current effort. The tack I took was a meatball of "white" meat, chicken or pork. The peppercorns lend a rough and hearty piquancy to the meatballs, and some more of them worked into cream give vibrancy to the sauce. The mixture excites the palate when poured over a gentle foil like steamed potatoes, or buttered noodles, or lightly salted rice, or the more recently discovered quinoa.

A spicy red wine like a Spanish garnacha or tempranillo or a French Côtes du Rhône goes well with this. The grenache/garnacha grapes, and to a lesser extent the syrah/shiraz grapes, produce a spicy wine with black or white pepper overtones. Accompany with a salad.


Green Peppercorn Meatballs in Cream and Mushroom Sauce Tim

(serves six -- unless they are Hammad or certain Emory students, in which case the recipe serves four to five)

Meatballs
1 tablespoon bottled green peppercorns (in vinegar), drained
2 pounds ground chicken or lean pork
2 tablespoons grated onion
6 tablespoons quick cooking oatmeal
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 small eggs

On a cutting board, finely mince the peppercorns with a chef's knife. Reserve 1/3 of the mixture for the sauce. Place the other 2/3 in a large mixing bowl. Add the meat and other meatball ingredients to the bowl and mix well. Let sit 10 minutes to firm up, and mix again. Wetting your hands, shape the meat mixture into small walnut-sized meatballs. Set them on an oiled cookie sheet.

Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a low, wide pot or casserole. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Drop the meatballs into the water, reshaping them quickly if they have flattened. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, gently stirring from time to time. The meatballs will float. With a slotted spoon, lift the meatballs out into a bowl, and cover them with plastic wrap. Save 1-2/3 cups of the broth for the sauce. Rinse the cooking pot.

Sauce and Garnish
1 pound mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch wide
4 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1-1/3 cups reserved meatball poaching broth
1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
The reserved 1/3 of the minced peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-1/3 cups sour cream
Minced parsley for garnish

Reheat the pot over medium-high heat and fry the mushrooms in the oil, stirring frequently. When the mushrooms are wilted and starting to lose some juice, add the 1-1/3 cups of poaching broth, salt, bay leaf, and reserved minced peppercorns. Let the mixture simmer 3 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, stirring until smooth. Taste and add salt if needed. Add the meatballs to the sauce and bring just back to a boil. Remove from the heat. Check, and if necessary adjust the salt again.

Serve over steamed potatoes, buttered noodles, lightly salted rice. or quinoa. Sprinkle with minced parsley.

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