Recipe: Bacon-Sage Meatballs with Buttermilk Gravy

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Bacon, sage and pork are a deservedly classic trio of flavors. These meatballs are both delicate and hearty, flavored with rich bacon and crisp sage and served with lashings of tangy buttermilk gravy.

Making meatballs can be time-consuming, which is why I like to make a double batch of these and freeze half. Roll the meatballs then freeze on a cookie sheet until hard. Put the frozen meatballs in plastic bags and freeze for up to two months, and let them defrost in the refrigerator before cooking.

Sage and Bacon Meatballs with Buttermilk Gravy

serves 4

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 slices of thick-cut bacon
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
Olive oil
Salt
1 lb ground pork
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Black pepper

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, fresh or dried
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Salt and pepper

Put the milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and mix with a fork. When the crumbs have softened squeeze out the milk and discard it.

Cut each bacon slice in half lengthwise then into 1-inch bits. Cook over medium heat in a heavy pan until crispy. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain and cool.

Drain the bacon fat from the pan then add the onion in a little olive oil and gently sauté until it is soft but not colored. Season with a pinch of salt and set it aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine the pork, breadcrumbs, bacon, onion, egg, Parmesan, sage, cayenne, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with hands thoroughly. Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. This can be done several hours or even a day ahead.

To cook, heat a skillet large enough to hold all the meatballs in one uncrowded layer. Add a little olive oil. When the skillet is heated, add the meatballs, shaking the pan to keep them from sticking. Do in batches, if necessary. If there isn't enough room in the skillet the meatballs will steam instead of brown. Using tongs to turn so they brown evenly, cook the meatballs until they are no longer pink in the center and lightly browned on all sides. This will take between 8 and 10 minutes.

Remove from the pan to a plate and immediately make the gravy.

Pour off any drippings left in the pan and reserve. If you can and want to skim fat off, do so as it cools. In the pan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and thyme and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes until the flour and butter smell nutty and have formed a paste.

Whisk in the wine and stock and bring to a boil. Continue whisking until the gravy is thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the buttermilk and bring back to a boil, then remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and serve. I just pour it right over the cooked meatballs.

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