Makes about 36 small meatballs, serving 8 or more as an appetizer
These meatballs can also be baked on parchment-lined sheet pans in a 400-degree oven until crisp, about 20 minutes. Though they are wonderful served with the suggested sauce, they can also be served baked until crispy, with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. They are versatile, and can be served as bite-sized snacks at a cocktail party or on a platter in a buffet. The main problem in my house is that everyone that walks by the pot snags one, so there are usually very few left by the time the party begins.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 8 large eggs
- 1 medium zucchini (6 to 8 ounces), grated on the coarse holes of a box grater and squeezed dry
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cups grated Grana Padano
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs, plus more as needed
For the sauce, in a medium Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, and salt. Slosh out the tomato can with 3 cups water, and add that to the pot. Bring to a simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. (This sauce should be a little more watery than most if you are serving the meatballs in it, because they will absorb a lot of the liquid.)
For the meatballs, in a large straight-sided skillet, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 365 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the zucchini, quinoa, parsley, thyme, and salt until well mixed. Stir in the grated cheese and panko. The mixture will seem wet; let it sit for 5 minutes so the crumbs absorb the liquid. If it is still very wet, add a little more panko, until you can roll the mixture into soft balls.
Roll heaping tablespoons of the mixture (or use a small ice-cream scoop) to make about thirty-six meatballs. Fry, in batches, until crisp and golden all over, about 4 minutes per batch, making sure the oil returns to 365 degrees between batches. Drain on paper towels, and season with salt.
Remove bay leaves from sauce when ready to serve. Serve the meatballs warmed in the sauce, or with the sauce on the side for dipping (in which case you can reduce it a bit more to thicken it).