Meatballs

The iconoclastic meatball, loved, favored and devoured by everyone. No matter what part of the globe or culture you hail from, chances are that you’ve eaten one. They’re truly the holy grail in the culinary arena.

Who doesn’t love a meatball? They are sexy and wicked good. Every cuisine showcases an individualistic take to give these pervasive round jewels their claim to fame.

And the best part — meatballs are white canvasses for limitless potential.

They’re a universal treat. In Spain, each province celebrates an Albondiga. Don’t think polpettes in Italy are served over spaghetti, although they’re famous in their Italian Wedding Soup. The French have their delicate Boulletes de viande, worshipped by Julia Child. Chi Zi Tao means Lion’s Head in China. In Turkey, it’s called Koftas. In India, meatballs are almost a daily staple. And let’s not forget the comforting Sopa de Albondigas consumed in every Mexican household.

Each cuisine has gallant profiles and meatballs date back to the Romans appearing in a text from Apicius, a Roman gourmand of his times.

Balls are almost unsinkable. However, ensuring they remain juicy and tender is the biggest challenge because a dried meatball is sacrilege.

 

MEATBALLS 101

Several meats -— A variety of mince provides more flavor. Beef, pork and/or veal are best. If using chicken, use thighs and grind your own, they will be less watery.

Never overmix — Balls will become dense. Remember —  juicy and tender.

Seasonings — Season aggressively with authority. Flavor is the key.

Breadcrumbs? — They will dry the mixture, unless soaked in some milk, wine or water. That’s called a panade and making your own breadcrumbs is always best. (Use older bread).

Egg — Besides being a superb binding agent, they create a juicier ball. Beat eggs well and season before adding to the mixture.

Rolling — Wet your hands in some water so they don’t stick to your hands.

Let them sit — The flavor is always enhanced if they rest about one to two hours prior to cooking; even better, prepare the mixture a day ahead.

Size matters — One inch is ideal; same size to cook uniformly. Rule of thumb: smaller — less cooking; larger — longer.

Cooking — Each recipe calls for a different method. Baking in the oven or flash sauteing prior to adding to a sauce provides more flavor and it ensures they won’t disintegrate while braising.  

Meatballs are a thing of beauty — a hygge in comfort food. Treat them with reverence and not only will they do your bidding but become irresistibly exceptional.

 

 

In America, the pairing of spaghetti with the axiomatic meatball is an ever-present classic. However, in Italy finding polpette al sugo over pasta will never be showcased on a menu.

This dish kicks some serious culinary keister and here pasta is a frivolity.

Add some crusty bread with a robust red and presto!

 

NEAPOLITAN MEATBALLS

1 28-ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes in their juice

1 whole bunch of fresh basil

4 garlic cloves

2 shallots

½ TSP salt and sugar

1 TSP butter

3 TBSP of olive oil

Pinch red pepper flakes

 

In a bowl, add tomatoes and crush by hand removing their center core, as they don’t cook. Saute shallots/garlic in olive oil and butter for 5 minutes on low. Add tomatoes, pepper flakes, salt — cook on low for about 40 minutes — stirring often, adding the bunch basil whole halfway.

½ onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

½ LB ground pork

½ LB of ground sirloin

2 slices of ground pancetta

2 slices of stale bread — soaked in milk

2 TBSP white wine

1 TSP fresh thyme

1 TSP fresh oregano

1 TBSP fresh parsley

Small grating of nutmeg

1 beaten egg

¼ cup of ground fresh Parmesan

Salt/pepper

 

GARNISHES

Fresh chopped parsley and basil

Chopped pistachios

Parmesan or Ricotta Salata

Loaf of crusty bread

 

Saute onions and garlic with a pinch of salt until translucent. Cool.

Add meats to a bowl, vegetable mixture, the soaked bread with milk (having squeezed out some of the liquid), chopped herbs, white wine, Parmesan, salt/pepper. Add beaten egg with salt and nutmeg. Use hands and don’t over mix. Wet your hands and form to the size of golf balls. 

Place on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Add them to sauce and simmer for an additional 10 minutes so they cook through. 

Add some sauce on the bottom of a bowl, pile a generous portion of meatballs and top with a flourish of garnishes.