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Pumpkin-Panko Meatballs in Strega Sauce

What says 'autumn' to me? Pumpkin? Yes. Witches? Most definitely...especially in the form of Liquore Strega.

I came across a recipe for meatballs that used a liqueur in its sauce - The Haggis and the Herring's Meatballs in Amaretto Barbeque Sauce. And I thought: why didn't I think of that? I cook with wine; I braise in beer. But I have never put a liqueur in a savory sauce.

While I couldn't bring myself to cook with Dr. Pepper, I used the recipe as a jumping off point to create some meatballs with pumpkin puree cooked in a sauce with Liquore Strega.

In case you're unfamiliar with Strega... Liquore Strega, Witches' Brew, is an Italian herbal liqueur whose bright golden hue comes from the presence of saffron in its formulation. I remember when I first spotted that sunny bottle on a shelf at a bar in Rome. The bartender let me taste it and when I asked what was in it, he answered: "Tante cose, cara, ma il colore viene da il zafferano." [Many things, dear, but its color comes from saffron.] Of course!

Saffron, mint, fennel, and almost seventy other herbs are blended together to make this potion. Not everyone likes it. I think when I foisted it on friends at a Halloween party one year, Beth mused, "it tastes vaguely like cough syrup."

Well...I like it!

1 lb 96/4 organic, grass-fed beef
1 egg
1 C panko bread crumbs
1 C pumpkin puree
1/2 t ground ginger
1 T minced garlic

Strega Sauce
2 C tomato sauce
1/2 C water
2 shots of espresso
2 shots of Strega
freshly ground salt
freshly ground pepper
splash of olive oil

Mix all of the meatball ingredients together in a bowl, adding enough panko bread crumbs that the mixture can be formed into balls. You may need a tad more than 1 C; it depends on how moist your puree is. Place the sauce ingredients in a large, flat-bottomed pan. Drop meatballs into the sauce and simmer till cooked through.

I served these as an appetizer, along with a cordial of Strega. But toss them - and their sauce - over cooked noodles for a full dinner.


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