I’ve got a pasta for you today that is going to become one of your new favorites: lemony bacon orecchiette with veal meatballs. This is one of those dishes that is complete comfort food, but still fresh and vibrant.
If you’re wanting a pasta dish that will satisfy all of your comfort food cravings in the summertime…this is it! I balance hearty veal meatballs with a really light lemony pasta. The bacon adds richness. The parmesan cheese adds saltiness. And the lemon brightens everything up.
I found the ground veal at my local Whole Foods. It gets combined with a melted onion and garlic mixture, some soaked fresh breadcrumbs, and lots of parmesan cheese. The cheese is what gives the meatballs a nice bite. I sear them in a cast-iron skillet until browned and really crisp. They then get transferred into the oven to slowly finishing cooking, resulting in a juicy, tender meatball situation.
The orecchiette pasta comes together really quickly right in the same pan you sear the meatballs. Kale (or you could even use swiss chard) adds another layer of heartiness to the dish. There’s so much flavor, but it’s all just really simple, classic ingredients.
Definitely my kind of dish, and I hope you love it, too! I think I’ll be making this tonight with some fudge brownies for dessert. Happy weekend!
- 2 oz sourdough bread
- ½ cup beef stock
- 6 oz raw bacon, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- ½ lb diced onions (about 1 small onion)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 lbs ground veal
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- kosher salt, as needed
- olive oil, as needed
- 1 ½ lbs orecchiette pasta
- olive oil, as needed
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 bunches of kale, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced
- 4 tbsp butter
- freshly cracked black pepper, as needed
- 1 small chunk of parmesan cheese, for grating
- 1. Add the bread to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a bowl and cover with the beef stock. Let soak for about 25 minutes.
- 2. Add the bacon to a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Let render until crispy, stirring often. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve for later.
- 3. Over medium heat, add the fennel seeds to the hot bacon fat. Let toast for 15 seconds until aromatic and then add the onions. Sauté the onions for about 12 minutes until tender and caramelized over low heat. Stir in the garlic and let cook for a minute or so. Turn off the heat and let cool.
- 4. Add the ground veal to a large mixing bowl with the parmesan cheese. Season the meat a generous pinch of salt. Add in the soaked bread and the onion mixture. Mix well.
- 5. Form the meat into 2-ounce balls, using your hands to pack them tightly.
- 6. Preheat the oven to 350F. Add a little bit of olive oil to the skillet that the bacon and onions cooked in. Heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, work in batches to sear the meatballs on all sides.
- 7. Transfer the meatballs to a foil-lined sheet pan. Once all of the meatballs are done searing, transfer them to the oven to finish cooking for about 8-10 minutes, or until done.
- 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orecchiette pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the package’s instructions. Right before draining the pasta, ladle out about 1 cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta.
- 2. Meanwhile, in the same skillet that you cooked the meatballs in, add a little bit more olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds.
- 3. Add half of the kale and stir until wilted. Add the rest of the kale. Continue to cook the kale until it’s all tender. Add the cup of reserved pasta water. Let simmer until slightly reduced.
- 4. Stir in the pasta and continue to cook until the liquid begins to coat the pasta and create a sauce. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice. Cook for a minute or so.
- 5. Stir in the butter and let melt. Crack fresh black pepper into the pasta, and grate lots of parmesan cheese right over top.
- 6. Stir in the bacon last. Taste the pasta and add more salt or lemon juice if needed.
- 7. Serve the orecchiette with the meatballs and more grated parmesan cheese on top.