Don’t Mess With the Meatballs!
So I am finally getting around to the simplest example of Italian cooking – MEATBALLS. I like to call them the “Scarlet Pimpernell” of Italian cuisine – you remember: “ they seek him here, they seek him there… that damned elusive Pimpernell”. Meatballs are pretty much everywhere, but are rather elusive as it’s hard to find a really good one. Everyone has a recipe. People go to amazing lengths to jazz them up – complicate them – put their singular stamp on them. Truth is – there is no need to go to such lengths and most of them fail.
My trusty author-friend, Marcia Mayo (now Guiendon), a word wizard, and I were talking about meatballs at dinner the other night. I told her that for such a very simple thing, it was amazing how often they are bastardized especially by the American public in an effort to “get cute” – be different – fill them full of things etc. I said I should write about this. Agreeing, she recommended that I call my blog post “Don’t Mess With the Meatballs!” So here we are – for all the folks who have asked for them.
In my life experience, the very finest meatballs were found right in my mother, Loretta’s, kitchen. If she were here, she would undoubtedly repeat one of her favorite lines, “Don’t be stupid!” She would not think the subject worthy of my time writing about it as they are so easy, so simple, that they couldn’t be such a big deal. Although, if she had any of the meatballs I have had lately, she might get it.
Loretta made her meatballs so simply and never by recipe. I watched her so many times, I have lost count. She always used the same few ingredients and counseled me in the same way on a couple of tips:
1. Always use an even mixture of ground beef chuck, pork, and veal.
2. Use your clean hands to mix the ingredients.
3.Don’t overwork the meat – don’t over mix as it toughens the meatball. Just pull the ingredients together gently and roll.
4. Always use fresh garlic and fresh Italian parsley.
5. Use fresh breadcrumbs – preferably from Italian bread at least a day old.
6. Wet your hands to roll the balls.
7. Fry them for best flavor and moistness.
I highly recommend the old KISS Method for meatballs. You know: “keep it simple stupid!” It just doesn’t get any easier.
If looking for a good Sunday Sauce for these meatballs – try my PORK RAGU!
Loretta, this one’s for you!
Makes: 14-15 Large meatballs
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 8-10 minutes
2 lb. Ground beef, pork, and veal in fairly equal parts
2 C. Fresh Breadcrumbs
2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped finely
1/3 C. Chopped Fresh Italian Parsley
2/3 C. Grated Cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, or Aged Provolone
1 Tsp. Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
If you are Sicilian – 1/4 C. Currants – Loretta would NOT like this!
Olive Oil for frying
See the meatball tips above in the text!!
If you can’t find the mix of ground meats, ask any butcher to grind it for you. It is traditionally the mixture for good meatloaf.
Make your own breadcrumbs by putting the bread in the food processor or blender and pulse to create the breadcrumbs.
Add to the meat mixture, the breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, grated cheese, salt and pepper and mix together with your hands. ( Add the currants if using) Don’t over mix – just pull it together. Over mixing toughens the meat.
Crack two eggs and add to the mixture. Mix together gently with your clean hands – just to moisten.
Clean your hands and wet them to roll the meatballs. Repeat wetting them if needed. You can roll any size you need – large or small for soup or lasagna.
Now you can fry them in olive oil as I recommend or bake them at 350 degrees. If you fry – they will be more moist. If you bake, be careful not to over cook as they will be hard – not more than 12 minutes – then finish in sauce.
For frying – brown them on all sides. Keep them moving in the oil for just a few minutes (about 6-7 min. depending on the heat) and then place them in your sauce to cook completely. If you want to – after browning you can bake them at 350 for about 5 minutes but you don’t have to if using them in sauce. You can also freeze them.
MEATBALLS are the Italians’ gift to the world. If kept simple and unembellished, they are heavenly. Try my recipe for Pork Ragu – the Sunday Sauce for finishing your meatballs. Open a lovely Chianti Classico to enjoy with them.
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography