I have been to the little owl, located in Manhattan’s West Village, twice before. (And yes, it’s supposed to be all lower case. See how trendy it is?) The first was two years ago with dear friend and former roomie Katie for our annual co-birthday dinner, in the heyday of an über-trendy youth that visited Butter the year before and Prune the year after. Hark! How young we were!
The second was with mon père the day before graduating college, and we had wine and some outlandish dish of lamb and goat cheese gnocchi and am I remembering this correctly, was there really some ratatouille on the plate? HEADY TIMES, FRIENDS. Anyway, the point of this story was that, no matter the dining partner, we had the justifiably famous meatball sliders every times.
In fact, I highly recommend you visit their website and click on the photo at the center of their front-page gallery. Now that is a slider, with just enough lovely tomato gravy and pecorino shavings to make it sing. I bet you’re even craving it right now and why can’t restaurant chefs be more generous with their recipes?
Luckily, the little owl’s own Joey Campanaro is, having shared the recipe with Bon Appetit and New York Magazine. And if they’re a little less glamorous looking from a home kitchen, they are just as delicious. Tender, juicy meatballs that threaten to fall apart at the slightest mean look (but don’t — I glared at them plenty whenever they started teetering on collapse). A rich tomato sauce and — if you make the buns bigger than I did (do!) — the loveliest bun hug, dough slightly sweetened with molasses and topped with some baked-on cheese.
the little owl meatball sliders
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1/2 lb ground veal (our hippie co-op didn’t have veal. we subbed in lamb: still amazing.)
- 1/2 cup panko, or homemade bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup water
- 8 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp chopped parsley, divided
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 cup packed basil leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 28-oz + 1 14.5-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- arugula leaves (optional)
- 18 very small soft rolls (“cocktail buns” at our bakery), or Roasted Garlic Buns (recipe below)
Mash the meats, panko, water, 6 tbsp cheese, egg and yolk, 1/4 cup parsley, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Combine thoroughly, and form into eighteen 2-inch meatballs.
Heat up vegetable oil in a medium-large skillet. These guys love to clamp onto the pan, so use a nonstick skillet if you have it. Working in batches, fry meatballs until brown all over. Transfer to a plate. Pour off skillet drippings and return the pan to a medium flame.
Add the olive oil to skillet. Add onion, garlic, basil, and fennel seeds and sautee until onion begins to brown, about five minutes. Add both cans of tomatoes, scrape up the brown bits from the bottom, and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover with lid slightly ajar, and let cook at a light simmer for 30 minutes.
Puree in food processor or blender until almost smooth. Return to pan and add meatballs. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, another 30 minutes.
To assemble, place an arugula leaf on the bottom of each bun. Slide (get it?) a meatball on top, and spoon some tomato sauce on top. Top with a flurry of remaining Pecorino and parsley. Continue until all the buns and meatballs have been used up.
the little owl roasted garlic buns
(Note: I found these proportions to be way off, and that if you divide the dough into 18 balls, as originally noted, they’re too small to hold the sliders. Next time, I’d divvy the dough into 9, and have indicated such. So if you have made the full meatball recipe of 18, double the amounts below!)
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 tbsp molasses
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 whole bulb garlic
Mix the warm water, molasses, olive oil, and instant yeast in a large bowl. Add the salt and flour. Stir until the dough starts to come together, them knead a few minutes, until ingredients are fully incorporated and dough is tacky. Place the dough back in the mixing bowl, brush with olive oil (or Pam!) and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about one hour. (Hint: to tell if the dough has doubled, poke it with a finger. If it bounces back, it’s not ready.)
Wrap a bulb of garlic in aluminum foil and bake in a medium-heat oven until very soft, about 45 minutes. Gently squeeze the soft garlic out of its skin and mash with a knife until it resembles a puree. Knead the garlic into the risen dough, and divide into 9 slider-sized rounds. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise again, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Before putting the buns in the oven, spray the raw dough with water and top with some Pecorino Romano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes.
UPDATE: Zeitgeist! A meatball explosion is (apparently) upon us!