Meatball Sliders

Photo: Kang Kim for New York Magazine. Illustrations by John Burgoyne.

Meatballs aren’t exactly seasonal. But anyone who’s ever thrown a Super Bowl party knows better than to try to serve a root-vegetable stew to an excitable gridiron crowd. Enter the Little Owl’s Joey Campanaro and this recipe for his signature dish—tiny meatballs served on homemade garlic buns. Incidentally, the South Philly native and Eagles fan is going with the Colts this February 4.

Joey Campanaro’s Meatball Sliders

For the meatballs:
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 cups cold water
3 large eggs
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Vegetable oil for frying meatballs (approximately 3 cups)
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh garlic, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 industrial-size No. 10 can (or 4 28-oz. cans) of whole peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Bunch of arugula

(1) Mix the ground meat with the cheese, the panko, the cold water, the eggs, 3/4 of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. (2) Form the mixture into 36 golf-ball-size meatballs. In a large shallow sauce pot or cast-iron pan, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, (3) add the meatballs and cook until brown all over. With a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs and set aside on a plate. Discard the vegetable oil but leave the browned bits in the pan. In the same pan, heat the olive oil, then add the onion, garlic, basil, and fennel seed. Cook for 5–8 minutes until slightly brown. Add the tomatoes and half a No. 10 can of water. Cook the sauce for 30 minutes, pass sauce through a food mill, and return to pan. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook for an additional 30 minutes.

For the garlic buns:
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 ounce fresh yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups all purpose flour
2 bulbs whole garlic, roasted

In an electric mixing bowl using the hook attachment, mix the warm water, yeast, olive oil, and molasses. Add the flour and the salt. The dough will become a wet mixture but will remain a little sticky. Remove the dough and place onto a floured clean surface and gently knead into a soft ball. Place the dough in a mixing bowl brushed with olive oil and cover. Store in a warm humid area for 30 minutes or until the dough rises to double its size. Wrap two bulbs of garlic in aluminum foil and roast in a medium heat oven until very soft. Squeeze the whole bulbs of garlic to release the soft interior. Slightly chop the roasted garlic until it resembles a puree. Portion the dough into 1 inch round balls, kneading in the roasted garlic while doing so. Place the portioned raw dough balls on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper approximately 2 inches apart. Cover with plastic and allow the dough balls to re rise again. After 20 minutes, spray the raw dough balls with cold water, sprinkle with a pinch of the freshly grated pecorino, salt and pepper, and bake for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Meatball Sliders