It's Friday in Birmingham. It's 70 degrees, and the birds are singing manic tunes outside my window, flogging the life out of the few rain-free hours they're going to get today. The sky is still gray, but the clouds have pulled back a bit above the scene so that there's enough light for me to see just how green everything is beginning to get. Inside, it's hushed, as people tiptoe and murmur through the end of this quiet week that children and people who have children call Spring Break.
In short, it's nice. It's calm. Deadlines are on the horizon, but not just yet. There's a weekend of nothing-planned around the corner.
And I'm sick.
Well, let's be clear: I have a cold. A cold is more nuisance than illness. But it does mean that I feel a little more subdued than normal, ready for the clock to tell me I can put on flat shoes and wash my face. More than ready to stop punctuating the stillness around me with the sound of my honking nose.
The weather has been a little rickety in these parts lately, as it is in the South when the weirdest winter in recent memory gives way to an uncertain spring. And the spring tornado season! Yay! (Not to be confused with the summer tornado season or the winter tornado season or the fall tornado season. Pack your moving truck today!) What all that means is that this week we've had a 70-degree day and a hard freeze. And that can make a person feel a little (ahem) under the weather, if the old wives are to be believed.
It's not surprising then, that the Brussels sprout salad that had been noodling around in my head all week got a swift kick to make way for this big bowl of comfort food. I don't remember eating a lot of egg noodles in my youth, but somehow they still conjure comfort to me. They require virtually no effort, so that's a big part of the allure. But they're also slurpy and satisfying, and they cling to sauce like a dream.
I originally envisioned the meatballs as larger than I might normally make them, all the better to envelop bocconcini of mozzarella. But the bocconcini at my local market were much larger than I'd imagined they'd be, so I decided to go with this brand, which sells smaller bites, about the size of big marbles, marketed as mozzarella pearls. Oh and then I squidged some Romano into the meatball mixture because I had some in the refrigerator that needed using and because cheese makes you feel better. Trust me, I'm a doctor.
No I'm not.
It's best to pack the meatballs fairly firmly, so that the cheese doesn't ooze out, but if some manages to escape (see below), well all the better. This is comfort food, after all, and we are not aiming for perfection. Because they are a little more tightly wound than traditional meatballs, though, I really suggest searing them in a pan and then finishing them in the sauce—it keeps them nice and tender.
I sautéed fresh spinach leaves with garlic, salt, pepper, and dried crushed red pepper on the side, because I figured my immune system probably would like to make the acquaintance of a vegetable every now and again. But you can serve this just as it is, whenever you need a little comfort. Whether you're under the weather or just over it already.
Mozzarella-stuffed Meatballs with Eggy Noodles
½ white onion, divided
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup shredded Romano cheese (optional)
4 ounces mozzarella pearls or chopped fresh mozzarella
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups fat-free beef broth
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Ground red pepper, to taste
16 ounces dry egg noodles
Garnish: flat-leaf parsley leaves
1. Cut onion into quarters. Grate ¼ onion on the fine side of a box grater into a medium bowl. Add beef, egg, next 5 ingredients, and Romano cheese, if desired; mix with hands until just combined. Place about 2 tablespoons beef mixture into the palm of your hand, pressing lightly into a small patty. Top with a mozzarella pearl, and form mixture around cheese to make a meatball. Repeat with remaining beef mixture and mozzarella.
2. Heat oil in a large, heavy bottom skillet over medium heat. Cook meatballs, in batches if necessary, until seared on all sides. (Meatballs will not be cooked through.)
3. Meanwhile, dice remaining ¼ onion. Remove meatballs to a plate, and add diced onion to skillet. Cook 2 minutes or until softened and lightly browned. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add butter, stirring until melted. Whisk in flour, and cook 2 minutes. Whisk in beef broth until smooth. Season with salt, black pepper, and ground red pepper to taste. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Return meatballs to skillet, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through.
4. Meanwhile, cook egg noodles according to package directions. Top noodles with meatballs and sauce; garnish, if desired. Makes 8 servings.