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Fox Valley Cooks: St. Charles chef shares meatball recipe

Chef Renée Zonkadds freshly grated Parmesan cheese serving her Italian meatballs spaghetti sauce. |  Judy Buchenot~For The Beacon-News

Chef Renée Zonka adds freshly grated Parmesan cheese to a serving of her Italian meatballs in spaghetti sauce. | Judy Buchenot~For The Beacon-News

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2 cups course fresh bread crumbs

1/3 cup milk

1-3/4 pounds ground chuck

1/2 pound ground pork

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1-3/4 cup grated
Parmesan cheese

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano

1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir bread crumbs and milk together, and allow to stand for 10 minutes so milk can absorb into them. Add remaining ingredients and mix completely.

Using a 1-ounce scoop, portion meatballs and place on an ungreased baking sheet, keeping meatballs close together. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until meatballs reach 155 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Portion out amount for dinner and place remaining meatballs into a freezer bag. May be frozen for up to three months. To reheat, add meatballs to favorite pasta sauce and heat 20 minutes or until meatball temperature is 165 degrees.

Updated: October 17, 2012 10:11PM

Renée Zonka knows her way around a kitchen.

The dean of the school of culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago has taught at two other cooking schools, managed hospital kitchens and ran restaurants for a large corporation. So one has to wonder what happens when she heads to her St. Charles home to cook for her husband and two sons.

“So what does a professional chef cook at home?” Zonka ponders. “Something quick, comforting and delicious. I get tired of complex menus and want something simple but satisfying.”

One dish that fills that role is her Italian meatballs, which can be prepared and frozen to be used in a variety of dishes. Zonka prefers ground chuck in her meatballs because the 80/20 lean meat to fat ratio gives better flavor and more moisture to the meatballs. Ground turkey can be used in place of ground beef in her recipe.

Another important part of this recipe is using fresh bread crumbs instead of dried crumbs.

“Just put fresh bread in a blender or food processor to make them,” she says. “The fresh bread crumbs hold more moisture and make more tender meatballs.”

She also suggests using fresh herbs if possible. If dried is all that is available, cut the amounts in half. Zonka notes that the fresh parsley should be flat leaf Italian parsley, not the curly parsley.

“The curly parsley is really more for a garnish than cooking. It doesn’t have the flavor that flat leaf parsley has,” she explains.

Once the meatballs have cooled, they can be frozen in plastic freezer bags.

The meatballs can be reheated in spaghetti sauce for about 20 minutes for the classic spaghetti and meatballs.

Zonka also makes a meatball submarine sandwich by placing a layer of cheese on a French sub roll and then piling on meatballs and sauce. The cooked meatballs can be breaded and fried as an appetizer.

“They can also be used for a frittata,” Zonka notes.

To make a frittata, she scrambles four eggs and pours them into a lightly oiled frying pan. She then adds two crumbled meatballs, 1/4 cup cheese and two tablespoons of sautéed peppers. She cooks the mixture until set, sprinkles it with one tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and finishes it in a 400-degree oven until lightly browned.

Zonka has seen an increase of students interested in becoming pastry chefs in recent years.

“There is a whole different mindset for a pastry chef,” she notes. “A culinary or savory chef is into multi-tasking and efficiency and is always working against the clock. A baking or pastry chef is very detail oriented, doing one step at a time. The pastry chef has to get it right the first time or it is over.”

Working with students always has been a passion for 61-year-old Zonka.

“It is fun to see students grow and change,” she says.

The school has a student-run dining room open Monday through Friday for lunch and Tuesday through Saturday for dinner that provides a fine dining experience. For more information, visit or call 312-752-2328.

Know someone who really likes to cook and is good at it? Contact
columnist Judy Buchenot at

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