My birthday was last Monday and I had family in town. We ate particularly well: oysters at Casamento's, po-boys at Parasol's, drinks at Bacchanal's followed by a paella dinner and sangria at Lola's, then my birthday dinner at Iris, where I had another of the chef's amazing impromptu vegetarian plates while everyone else chowed down on duck and braised beef shortribs. One of the best orders was my dad's appetizer of Ricotta Gnudi (meaning 'nude' in Italian). Very similar to gnocchi, but instead of potatoes they're made with ricotta, so that they end up extremely light. The drinks there also attain a brilliance that should be mentioned. I had a galangal and banana martini while Dan, currently fascinated by Hendrick's gin (which is infused with cucumber and rose petals), had a parsley gin martini.
Last night I came home from work to find that he had orchestrated a lovely surprise party for me, complete with a massive accompanying meal. He even went so far as to print out little menus! They listed 'cremini mushrooms marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs,' 'roasted red pepper and goat cheese crostini,' 'tomato, mozzarella, and eggplant salad with a homemade vinaigrette,' 'Italian pasta salad with yellow squash, zucchini, and Bella di Cerignola olives,' and my favorite, 'Italian style "meat" balls.' My friend Claire also brought over a fantastic chickpea and red onion salad which deserves mention.
Anyways, I must include here the recipe that he used to make the meatballs, because they were definitely on par with the vegan meatballs from Whole Foods, which, if you've had them, are divine.
He didn't use egg at all, used fresh garlic and onions instead of powder, and used freshly grated parmesan instead of the fake stuff.
Sandy's Italian Tofu Balls (from Vegetarian Recipes Around the World, www.ivu.org)
About the ingredients:
Tofu: Don't use tofu in a box, even if it says firm, and don't use anything but firm or extra firm (or a block of each), fresh tofu. It should be possible to hold one end of the block without it breaking in half immediately. Rinse it and squeeze as much of the water as you can out of it right before you start.
Bread crumbs: I make my own from toasted Berlin Bakeries spelt bread, but any crumbs should work. Some people like chunks of bread in the mix, and that works ok. Pre-season the crumbs with a little salt (vegetable salt is nice), basil, (considerably less) oregano, granulated garlic or garlic powder, and pepper. The amount of bread crumbs required will greatly depend on the texture and wetness of the tofu.
Granulated garlic: If you've never had it, you're missing a great seasoning. look for it in natural foods stores.
Dried onion flakes: You can substitute fresh minced onion, but you should probably partially cook it in the microwave or in a saucepan, if you do. Ditto minced garlic, if you use it.
Dry egg replacer: Ener-G makes one; you can probably substitute arrowroot flour or cornstarch. I've used cornstarch.
Tamari: Yes, you can use soy sauce. If you use soy sauce or regular tamari, use a bit less.
Nutritional Yeast: Adds vitamins, micronutrients and a mild "cheesy" flavor. Don't use brewer's yeast, which is bitter.
* Means optional
** Means optional but strongly suggested for best results.
(makes about 22 1 1/2" balls):
- 2 x 16oz blocks of firm or extra firm tofu (or one of each)
- Roughly 1 1/2 cups of preseasoned bread crumbs
- * 1 heaping tablespoon powdered egg replacer
- About 1 1/2 tablespoons (six to ten shakes) low sodium tamari
- Vegetable or sea salt to taste. ( or potassium salt substitute)
- Pepper to taste.
- * About 2 tablespoons dry flaked onion.
- * Soymage Parmesan Substitute to taste.
- Roughly 1 teaspoon basil.
- Roughly 1/4 teaspoon oregano.
- Granulated garlic, minced garlic or garlic powder to taste.
- * 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast.
- ** 1 1/2 quarts pasta sauce.
2. Rinse, drain, and squeeze dry the tofu, crumble it into a large mixing bowl, then mash it into an even - but not extremely fine - consistency, using a sturdy fork.
Sprinkle on the tamari, and mix it in with the fork.
Add the other seasonings and the yeast, while continuing to mix the tofu without mashing it further.
Taste it several times; you want it to taste mildly salty, and for the flavor of the seasonings to be present, but not overwhelming.
3. Stir in the flaked or minced onion, and the egg replacer.
Then add about 2/3 of the bread crumbs, first mixing them in with the fork, then with your (slightly moistened) hands.
First squeeze it through your fingers repeatedly, then press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the bowl with your knuckles.
While doing this, add enough bread crumbs to make the mixture form readily into firm balls, without being wet or doughlike.
If you add too much bread and it gets dry and crumbly, sprinkle in a little water.
If it's still a little wet and you are out of bread, add a little more egg replacer or some cornstarch or potato starch.
4. Form the mixture into balls. They can be small (about 1") or medium size (about 1 1/2"). Larger ones are possible, but are likelier to end up underdone in the middle.
Place them on the baking sheet. They can be close together, but not touching.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (small) to 1 hour (medium).
The tofu balls should be well browned, especially if you are omitting the last two steps, but not burned looking.
You can turn them after 1/2 hour, but it isn't absolutely necessary.
**6. Let the balls cool for about 20 minutes, them place them in a large *covered* frying pan that has been coated with canola oil, olive oil, or a mix of the two, and preheated.
Gently saute them for about 15 minutes, turning them frequently.
**7 Add enough tomato sauce to completely cover the balls, then cover and simmer them for one hour, gently stirring them occasionally.
They are ready to eat at this point, but for the best flavor, let them sit in the sauce, in a glass bowl or steel pan, in the refrigerator overnight. They freeze fairly well.
Note: for lowfat tofu balls, try omitting step #6, but not step #7.