Sometimes failure can end up tasting pretty good. It certainly was the case with these meatballs.
I'd been aiming to creating a solidly delicious, all-purpose meatball suitable for tossing with marinara over spaghetti. Except it didn't quite work out that way. The meatballs, while certainly delicious, were both too tangy and too sweet to pair with your basic pasta sauce. And they certainly didn't agree with the mandatory Parmesan that spaghetti calls for.
So I tried them in a curry sauce. Indian food is particularly welcoming to that play of sweet and heat, tangy and savory. But that wasn't quite right, either.
I was resistant to changing the meatballs themselves. Because while they didn't partner well with anything I'd tried, I still thought they were good. And they certainly were worth salvaging. Then it hit me. Embrace the tangy, sweet-and-savory side of these meatballs. Turn them into party food.
And so I ended up with these cocktail meatballs, perfect for setting out with toothpicks for a holiday gathering. And it turned out the sauce couldn't have been simpler — tomatoes and cranberry sauce.
COCKTAIL MEATBALLS WITH CRANBERRY MARINARA
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Makes 50 meatballs
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno slices
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 pounds ground beef (93 percent lean)
14-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce
15-ounce can diced tomatoes
Splash of hot sauce
Heat the oven to 425 F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cilantro, jalapenos, garlic, fennel, oregano, onion powder, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Whisk until well combined. Add the ground beef, then mix gently until completely blended. Divide the mixture into 50 balls, using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture per ball. Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the meatballs for 20 minutes. Increase heat to broil and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cranberry sauce and diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, and a splash of hot sauce.
When the meatballs are done, arrange on a platter, then spoon the cranberry mixture over them. Serve with toothpicks.
Nutrition information per meatball: 60 calories; 15 calories from fat (25 percent of total calories); 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 6 g protein; 270 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.