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Published: Saturday, 12/18/2010

Meatballs have a gourmet twist

Casual entertaining with comfort foods is definitely "in" for these cash-strapped times. When planning our menus, we like to take something everyone loves and give it a little gourmet twist.

Take today's Prosciutto Meatballs with Crushed Tomato Sauce. Homemade meatballs do take a bit more time to prepare than just pulling out the frozen ones we typically use for Desperation Dinners recipes. However, they are incredibly easy to make with a wonderfully distinct flavor, owing to the prosciutto.

Prosciutto can be found in most supermarket delis, and you can have it shaved thinly for this recipe. Sometimes stores sell it already sliced and packaged, and this type works fine, too.

Once your meatballs are baking, you can whip together our extremely easy Crushed Tomato Sauce. This sauce has a bright, clear flavor, thanks to its simple ingredients.

The meatballs would anchor any appetizer party, too, but all you have to do to make it dinner-party worthy is add some pasta, and then the dish would easily serve eight. (We prefer short pastas like penne for entertaining, as they're easier in general to deal with in larger quantities.)

One final convenience tip for entertaining: You can make our meatballs ahead and freeze them, either raw or already baked. Thaw the meatballs in the refrigerator overnight or use your microwave defrost function, or let frozen, cooked meatballs defrost slowly in the simmering tomato sauce.

All in all, this recipe is a winner on so many fronts that we know you're going to love it as much as we do!

Contact Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, or send e-mail to tellus@kitchenscoop.com. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at kitchenscoop.com.

Prosciutto Meatballs with Crushed Tomato Sauce

Start to finish: 15 minutes preparation, 20 to 30 minutes to bake, 20 minutes to simmer

3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto

12 ounces extra-lean ground beef

12 ounces ground turkey (see Cook's note)

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons prepared dry breadcrumbs (see Cook's note)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

nonstick cooking spray

Crushed Tomato Sauce, recipe follows

cooked pasta of choice, optional

Cook's note: For lower fat, use ground turkey that contains only breast meat.

Several companies, such as Progresso, make dry breadcrumbs. Either plain or Italian-style will work. Use homemade crumbs if you like.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Cook the prosciutto (like bacon) in a nonstick skillet until almost crispy. Chop into bite-size pieces, and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients. Mix well with your hands. (Clean hands well with antibacterial soap after handling raw meat.)

Spray a large jellyroll pan (12- 1/2 by 17- 1/2 inches) with the nonstick cooking spray. Pinch off a small amount of meat mixture, and roll between your hands to form a ball about the diameter of a quarter. Place on a prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining meat.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. (While the meatballs cook, make the Crushed Tomato Sauce; the recipe follows.)

Remove from the oven. Place the meatballs into sauce, and simmer for at least 20 minutes and up to several hours. Serve with toothpicks or over favorite pasta.

Yield: 46 meatballs

Crushed Tomato Sauce

Start to finish: 15 minutes

1/4 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes with juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a 3-quart or larger saucepan, heat the oil and garlic over medium-high heat until the garlic starts to brown. Reduce heat to low. Carefully add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover and cook on low for 10 minutes or until the meatballs are ready.

Yield: 7 cups sauce



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