Market to Table

FESTIVE BALLS

 

The festive balls on the two little Christmas trees outside our townhouse are finally decorated with snow, just in time for the New Year. But a different type of festive balls were the big hit of the Christmas family feast … I speak of Festive Stuffing Balls.

This year I had Pat Gasparo, my butcher at Brown Brothers Meats in the St. Lawrence Market, de-bone the turkey. Diane, nearly a vegetarian, will eat a little turkey meat, but only if it doesn’t look like a turkey. So butcher Pat made it look like a large football, with all the good and tasty dark meat tucked inside and unbelievably easy to cook and carve. As usual, I ordered a beast far too large and even de-boned it came in at 19 lb. The five family members gathered for the celebration hardly made a dent in it, which is why a few days later, having eaten all the other leftovers, I am making delicious Festive Stuffing Balls over again, to enjoy with a few slices of cold turkey. Fortunately, friends gave of their own delicious homemade cranberry sauce so there’s still enough of that.

Why stuffing balls, you may ask? Since a boned turkey has no cavities to stuff, there was no alternative but to make the stuffing separately. Rather than just the usual mixture in a pan, to bake along with the bird, I research stuffing balls. I’d had them at the pub near our cottage in South Yorkshire with a Sunday “carvery.” Actually, they served the savoury balls with roast beef and roast pork as well, so no one was discriminating. I even got some Yorkshire pud, normally only served with beef, with my turkey, so I guess tastes run both ways in the North.

It was remarkably hard to find a good online recipe with sausage meat, sage and onion. My large library of cookbooks weren’t much help either. So the recipe which follows is my own. After the first batch was mixed, I made and cooked two balls on Christmas Eve. Diane and I taste tested them and decided they needed more breadcrumbs and more sage. That was the version served at the feast. Today’s batch are an improvement again, with finer breadcrumbs made from toast rather than bread and a few tweaks in the seasonings. Nigel Slater, in last year’s book The Christmas Chronicles, advises (in another context) not to use too much sage or the recipe might taste medicinal, so I have been circumspect with the pungent leaves. Leaving the balls to rest and the flavours to mingle overnight seems to be a good idea and saves stress on the cook on the big day. The other tricks are really fine toasted breadcrumbs, excellent sausagemeat and fresh ingredients. They’re even better the following day, heated up and eaten with leftovers. That’s what the day after a holiday is for, isn’t it?

FESTIVE STUFFING BALLS

Makes 20 to 24 balls. Voted best new dish at my Family Feast this Christmas, they are an easy alternative to stuffing in a bird’s cavity or rolled in a meat roast.

Shopping list

  • 400 g / 5 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs (approx. ½ loaf of stale bread, crusts cut off)
  • 500 g / 17 oz sausage meat (1 pkg of 5 bangers)
  • 2 medium white onions, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 8 large sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 4 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Good breadcrumbs are the key: in advance, toast about 7 slices of bread, cut the crusts off and then leave in a bowl exposed to the air overnight. When the bread is good and dry it will easily crumble into small chunks. Then run the chunks through a food processor to make rough breadcrumbs, or chop into smaller pieces, or use a pestle to crush the toast into crumbs.
  2. De-skin a packet of English bangers, or use seasoned sausage meat, and mix in with the breadcrumbs.
  3. Melt the butter, with a few drops of olive oil to prevent burning, add finely chopped onion and celery. Sauté until soft and transparent, about 10 mins. Do not brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  4. Remove the stalk from the sage and chop the leaves very finely. Mix all the ingredients together very well. Use your hands or a wooden spoon. (NOTE: If the mixture seems too heavy on the sausage meat, add up to another ½ cup of fine breadcrumbs. If the mixture seems too dry, add more sausage meat or a well beaten egg.) Season well.
  5. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Mold the stuffing into firm balls about the size of a small golf ball and place on the pan, with space between each. Cover with cling film, transfer to the fridge for at least 30 mins to firm up – or for up to a day, if you are going to cook them and consume them later. (NOTE: Do not cook them and then freeze them.)
  6. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°F and bake for 30 mins until cooked through. Serve within 30 mins with roast turkey, goose or chicken, or your favourite meat dish. Or reheat to use with left overs.

Best wishes for a very happy and prosperous New Year to all our readers.

Sausagemeat, sage and onion stuffing balls fresh from the oven

 

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