Feta Stuffed Meatballs
My oven-roasting technique simultaneously cooks the meatballs and the olives forming a rich sauce. Inspired by the meatball kebabs I grew up with in Israel, these are hearty and well spiced, with a satisfying char from a few final minutes under the broiler.
Feta delivers a salty, creamy surprise in the centers of these meatballs.
Feta Stuffed Meatballs with Green Olives
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
11⁄2 teaspoons fennel seeds (3 grams)
21⁄2 teaspoons dried garlic slices (4 grams)
2 teaspoons dried oregano (1 gram)
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese (1 gram)
1⁄2 teaspoon peperoncini (dried Calabrian chile) or red pepper flakes (1 gram)
Finely grind the fennel and garlic together and immediately mix with the oregano, cinnamon, and peperoncini.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely diced yellow onion
1 pound ground beef chuck or sirloin (85% to 90% lean)
1⁄4 cup labne or plain Greek yogurt
1⁄3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 large egg
12 cubes of feta cheese (3/4")
1 cup pitted green olives (like Castelvetrano)
Position one oven rack 6 inches from the broiler heat source and one in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Coat a large oven-safe skillet with 2 tablespoons oil and set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon of the spice blend, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just translucent but still has a little bite, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool completely; reserve the skillet.
Add the ground beef, labne, panko, egg, remaining spice blend, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 2 teaspoons salt to the bowl with onions. Mix with your hands until evenly blended.
Coat the skillet with oil (1 to 2 tablespoons). Form the meat mixture into 12 (2-inch) balls (about 2 ounces each). After forming the balls, use your thumb to make a cavity in a ball and stuff it with a 3⁄4-inch cube of feta cheese. Press the meat around the cheese and roll into a ball again, sealing in the cheese. Repeat with the remaining meatballs and eleven more cubes of cheese.
Put the meatballs in the skillet in a single layer and scatter the olives all around, letting them fall between the meatballs.
Roast for 20 minutes on the center rack. Turn the broiler to High and move the skillet to the upper rack. Broil the meatballs until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160°F, 2 to 8 minutes more. The strength of broiler heat sources varies widely, so keep an eye on the meatballs and take them out when they’re nicely browned. Serve hot, with the olives.