After tasting Chef Harold Dieterle’s pitch-perfect signature duck meatballs at his West Village eatery Perilla, I was hooked. While meatballs are the dish-of-the-moment, Dieterle’s stray from convention: piquant, tender duck balls paired with homemade mint and ricotta cavatelli in a rich, velvety broth.
The meatballs are fatty ground duck mixed with panko and seasoned with licorice-flavored Thai basil and given a tongue-titillating bite with Sriracha. The finished dish is crowned with a delicate, yet decadent raw quail egg, giving the meatballs and dumplings a satiny richness. Chef Dieterle conjures up flavor profile combinations I’ve never tasted- fruity and herbaceous, spicy hot, earthy and creamy. Flavor nuances unfurl with every bite.
The most difficult aspect of making this dish at home, for me, was rolling the dumplings. I do not have a cavatelli mold and it took more than several misguided attempts to find my groove. Once I was able to comfortably roll the cavatelli, each piece looked more perfect than the previous.
There are several versions of Harold Dieterle’s recipe available online. I skipped out on the water spinach he uses at Perilla, mostly because it was not included in the version of the recipe I used. Though I know the chef prefers to grind his own meat, I had my local butcher do it for me, rather than toiling away with my insufficient meat grinder.
Chef Dieterle recommends using duck stock for his meatballs. If duck stock is unavailable or you do not have time to make your own, use a reduced chicken stock. If all else fails, veal stock is a fine option. However, I went out on a limb and used a combination of brown chicken stock, duck stock and veal stock purchased at an artisanal butcher.
Artfully plated, the meatballs are nestled in a warm bowl with chewy-tender mint cavatelli, moistened by spicy, deeply rich broth. Sprinkled with creamy parmesan, a delicate quail egg perched demurely on top, this dish is concurrently rich, surprising and comforting.
Duck Meatballs with Mint Cavatelli
1/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 large egg
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped mint
3 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, very finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 pound ground duck
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped basil
2 tablespoons chile sauce such as sriracha or sambal
1/4 cup panko
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 shallots, sliced crosswise
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
8 cups brown chicken stock, veal stock, duck stock or combination
8 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
4 teaspoons chopped mint
4 teaspoons chopped chives
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
4 quail eggs
To make mint cavatelli:
1. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta and eggs; season with salt and pepper. Gradually sift in 3/4 cup flour. Add mint and knead mixture until a dough forms. Turn dough out onto work surface and knead a few more times until smooth; form dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand 30 minutes.
Sprinkle work surface with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead flour into dough. Roll out dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1-inch-wide strips. Run dough through a cavatelli maker or cut each strip into 1-by-1/2-inch pieces.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt boiling water and return to a boil. Add cavatelli to boiling water and cook until tender and floats to the surface, about 1 1/2 minutes. Drain and transfer cavatelli to a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and let cool.
To make duck meatballs:
1. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and 3 cloves garlic. Cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes; remove from heat and let cool.
2. Add onion and garlic mixture to a large bowl, along with, ground duck, basil, chile sauce, panko, and eggs. Knead mixture until well combined; season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to refrigerator and let chill for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
4. Remove duck mixture from refrigerator and form into 1 1/2- to 2-inch balls. Transfer to a baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to oven and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining 2 cloves garlic, 1 shallot, and plum tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add stock and thyme; let simmer for 20 minutes.
6. Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer set over another large saucepan, discarding solids. Transfer meatballs to liquid and place over medium heat. Let meatballs simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
7. Heat remaining teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 2 shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add meatballs and their cooking liquid, cavatelli, butter, mint, and chives; let cook for 2 minutes.
8. Divide mixture evenly between 4 bowls. Sprinkle over freshly grated parmesan cheese and crack a quail egg into each bowl; serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings