When I was in my graduate program, I lived with the family of an old school friend. The mother was a good cook of the Betty Crocker/Good Housekeeping school, and there were still young kids living at home. We often had many of the classics – tuna-noodle casserole, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf – but a cheer would go up from the kids when they learned that dinner would include porcupine meatballs. It was even a celebratory dish for birthdays or good report cards.
The meatballs get their name not from being made from porcupine meat but from the rice on their surfaces that supposedly sticks up like the quills on a porcupine’s back. You clearly need the imagination of a child for this creation.
Honestly, I think that the reputation of the dish was overblown, but it really is something to make when you have run out of ideas for what to do with a pound of ground beef. And that’s exactly what happened. I had a pound of ground beef to use up, and I didn’t feel like the usual hamburgers or pasta with meat sauce.
Then I thought of porcupine meatballs even though I hadn’t had them since my college days. They are easy to make with the single challenging step being the tomato sauce in which the meatballs cook. If you insist, you can make a very elaborate sauce. Alternatively, you can open a can of plain tomato sauce. Those two options run the gamut of hard to ridiculously easy and of tasty to why-bother. Fortunately, there is a middle road. I bought a large jar of Rao’s tomato/basil pasta sauce (straight from the world-famous Manhattan restaurant, according to the label), and that worked perfectly to make this an easy, one-pot meal.
Put a green salad on the side, and you have all your food groups.
- 1 thick slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1/4 teasoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup long grain white rice
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 quart jar commercial pasta sauce
- grated Parmesan cheese
- In a large mixing bowl, soak the bread, torn into pieces, in the milk. Use a fork to mash the bread into a paste.
- Add the ground beef, egg, and tomato paste, and with your hands, mix until completely combined. Stir in the bell pepper, onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and mix until completely combined.
- Form the mixture into 8 meatballs.
- Place the rice in a shallow dish. Roll the meatballs in the rice until they are completely covered.
- In a large pot, brown the meatballs in the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta sauce, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Some of the rice will have fallen off the meatballs into the sauce.
- Serve while still hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese