March 1, 2011

Hello? 1950's Calling.


They're called porcupine balls.  Little meatballs studded with rice and simmered in a bright tomato sauce; I dare you not to like them.  They're so 1950's chic.  They're so cute and small and prickly when the rice puffs up during cooking and pokes out (get it?!).  I think I'd love them even if I didn't grow up eating them, for the name alone.

I wish I had a picture of the cookbook that this recipe came from to show you.  The cover has all these Charley Harper inspired illustrations of meals and each section of the cookbook is broken down by meat or vegetable type.  The beef section has illustrations of happy cows and beef cuts all over the pages and everything is color coordinated to boot.  Of course, since it's put out by the cutlery company Cutco, there's little illustrations of knives too.  It's got a lot of kitsch and retro charm.

I really embraced the 1950's housewife feel having set a plate of these on the table not 5 minutes after D walked in the door from work, complete with a baked potato and steamed broccoli.  Just your regular June Cleaver over here.  There's nothing gourmet about this skillet of tomato covered meatballs, it's all about being economical.  Stretching that affordable ground beef with some rice and minimal seasonings, a couple of cans of tomato sauce (or soup depending on your recipe) and feeding your nuclear family unit with your 2.3 children.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

Porcupine Balls
Adapted from the Cutco Cookbook

I think the original recipe has you cook the porcupine balls in canned tomato soup diluted with water, but since I have misplaced the recipe and was making this from memory I couldn't say for certain.  Personally I chose to use a few cans of tomato sauce in hopes of avoiding the sodium bomb that comes along with canned condensed soups and I think I'll keep that change in the future.  I kept the seasoning pretty minimal in the meatballs as I was envisioning something simple and comforting and not veering into a specific flavor profile, but feel free to experiment and tweak with any seasonings you see fit. 

Makes about 20 meatballs

1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons grated raw onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
16 oz tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

In a bowl, combine the ground beef, uncooked rice, onion, garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Using your hands mix everything together until it looks like the rice is evenly distributed throughout.  Form into about 20 golf ball sized meatballs, by pressing and rolling small pieces of the mixture in between the palms of your hands.  Set aside on a plate or cookie sheet.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and add the meatballs, leaving some space around each one browning one side, then another for no more than 5 minutes total.  Add in the 2 cans of tomato sauce, water, Worcestershire sauce and sugar and gently stir to get everything incorporated.  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook on low heat for 35-40 minutes.  Most likely the sauce will not completely cover the meatballs, so give them a stir once or twice during cooking so they at least maintain a coating of sauce.  Serve, spooning the sauce over the porcupine balls.


  1. OHMYGOD! I loved these growing up, I would always ask for them for my birthday dinner! My mom would use her super retro pressure cooker, it was awesome, I love this post!

  2. Never had these growing up (my British mother is/was not the best cook so my food memories are not so fond) but my friends would remark about having these .....and I always wondered. We made them and everyone loved them. Surprisingly filling and also great leftovers, THANKS