A while back, my friend Anneli (@Delicieux_fr on Twitter) and I wrote guest posts for each other’s blog. The subject was stuffed peppers and we had so much fun that we agreed to do it again. Since I had suggested the ingredient the first time, it was Anneli’s turn to come up with the theme. She sent me a list (there’s always a list, isn’t there?) and one in particular seemed perfect. Balls! OK people, get your minds out of the gutter, we’re talking food here. She explained that since there are so many foods that are served in a round form, we would have a broad list to choose from. You may think I’ve picked the absolute most obvious kind of food ball — the meatball — and I’d have to say that you’re probably right, but let me explain. My grandparents came to the United States from Calabria, Italy in the early 1920s. Like hundreds of thousands of other immigrants, they brought with them a culture of food that was specific to not only their country, but their local region. Some of the best memories of my childhood are of Sunday afternoon dinners at my grandparent’s house where spaghetti and meatballs were front and center. The recipe my grandmother used was simple, a good handful of grated cheese lightly and delicately mixed into each pound of ground meat. This works beautifully if your sauce is complex and has been simmering with bones and sausages all day, the way hers was. The recipe that Cynthia and I use today is based on what my grandmother brought from Calabria, but our sauce is a simple marinara made with tomatoes picked at the height of summer from our garden, roasted with garlic and olive oil then frozen or canned. So, for me, there was almost no choice but to write about these meatballs! For a more detailed description of how we roast our tomatoes, click here. You might ask, what’s so special about meatballs? Anyone can make them, right? Well, sort of, or at least some version of them. The fact is, I’ve had lots of bad meatballs over the years. Done right, they can be flavorful and tender (yes, I said tender). Done badly, they are often tasteless and rock hard. Ick! The trick to tender balls is…..drumroll please…..simmering sauce. When the balls hit the sauce, it must have already been brought up to a boil and then back down to a nice simmer. Bringing it up to a boil first insures the entire pot has been heated thoroughly. If your sauce is boiling or cold, you will have tough balls. No one likes tough balls. Well, OK, our dogs will eat them, but then they’ve not turned their noses up to anything from the kitchen yet (or from the yard for that matter). Here’s how you too, can have tender balls. Ingredients (makes 12 meatballs)
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1shallot, preferably the long french variety, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh minced rosemary or 1 tsp dry crumbled
- 1/4 cup port wine
- 6-8 dashes worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped fine
- 2 eggs (optional)
- 1/4-1/2 cup freshly grated cheese – parmigiano reggiano, locatelli romano or grana padano
- 1/2 cup FRESH bread crumbs*
- 2-4 tbsp milk or cream
- 1 pound ground meat (1/4 veal,1/4 pork,1/2 beef – this blend adds flavor and texture)
- salt/pepper to taste
- In a small skillet, on medium high heat, saute the shallot in EVOO until a little browning begins at the edges. Add rosemary, wait 30 seconds, then add the port. Allow to bubble until reduced by at least half. Set aside to cool.
- In a small bowl, combine fresh breadcrumbs with milk or cream. If your bread is very fresh, you’ll need less milk – you want a nice moist crumb, but not wet, otherwise you’ll make paste. Not tasty. Let sit for 5 minutes or so and fluff it right before you use it.
- Place ground meat in a large bowl, hit with 6-8 dashes Worcestershire. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, flip it over. Sprinkle soy over, then parsley, eggs (if using), cheese, shallot mixture and breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly but gently, do not shmush. When it’s mixed to your satisfaction – if it’s too wet add a little more cheese and if it’s too dry add a little milk or tomato sauce – pinch off a little bit, form it into a mini pattie and saute. Let it cool a bit and taste. Adjust seasoning if needed and please don’t skip this step.
- (You could, at this point, form the meatballs into a meatloaf, or patties for meatloaf burgers. It’s also tasty dropped into stock for Italian wedding soup. Mix it with rice and stuff some cabbage leaves or peppers. I think you get where I’m going with this – it’s a very versatile mixture.)
- Form into balls. I use a small ice cream scoop that holds a tablespoon, and scoop twice, loosely. You want to form a nice ball, but again, don’t shmush. Light but firm pressure.
- At this point, you have two options, to fry or not to fry. If you’re feeling lazy, just drop the balls into SIMMERING sauce. If you want a little more umami going in the finished product, saute them until golden brown and delicious on all sides.
- This can be tedious and messy, and although I like a brown ball, I think the un-browned balls are a wee bit tender-er and I don’t miss the extra bit of meatiness. In fact, when it’s a simple marinara, I think I prefer it without the extra step.
- Once the balls are in the sauce, simmer for at least 1/2 an hour.
- When they’re done, they should be tender enough to cut with almost no downward pressure by a fork and should look something like this…..
*A note on fresh breadcrumbs: day old bread works best, and I use my spice mill to pulverize it. Added bonus, it cleans the mill and may pick up a little interesting spice in the process. Should your bread be too fresh, toast it before blitzing. Need to be gluten free? Sub in some crushed Rice Krispies, Gluten Free or cooked rice that you’ve taken a knife to, but do not use the milk or cream, just straight in. Buon Appetito! You can see Anneli’s guest post about balls on my blog site, A Reluctant Foodie by clicking here!