Meatballs are not just for spaghetti, other pastas work well too

September 18, 2013 

Whether meatballs are an Italian dish is a matter of some debate, but the real crux of the argument is a bit more specific; no Italian in his right mind would serve meatballs and spaghetti together.

Meatballs are just fine, but they would be served as a second or third course and the pasta would be served as a first or second course. If that seems a bit odd to you perhaps you did not know that a full Italian meal can have up to 10 courses? Three would be more typical.

The origins of spaghetti and meatballs, as we are so fond of it in this country, almost certainly comes from New York or New Jersey in the late 1800s. At that time there were waves of Italian immigrants arriving in the United States, and many of them were poor and had to be innovative in the kitchen to feed a large family.

Regardless of Italian sensibilities, a well-made meatball, served with a rich, red sauce, pasta cooked al dente and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano can be as soul satisfying a meal as can be imagined. Some care does need to be taken to use a good quality pasta. Use a thicker pasta such as linguine, fettuccine or even pappardelle and make sure to not overcook it.

The composition of the meatball itself is an open to vigorous debate, but one fact remains undisputed: the meatballs should be light and fluffy, not dense, heavy and what a friend used to call gut-bombs. Use a variety of meats, lots of herbs and spices and perhaps the most important ingredient is bread, either as bread crumbs or bread-soaked in milk. That is the source of the light

ness and a remembrance of the poor Italians who first made this dish and had to stretch what little meat they could afford.

SIMPLE MEATBALLS

1 pound ground beef

6 ounces bread crumbs

4 eggs

4 ounces milk

6 ounces grated Romano cheese

1/2 cup chopped red onion

2-3 cloves of diced garlic

2-3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Form into equal size meat balls and place on an oiled sheet pan. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, but start checking for doneness after 30 minutes. Turn once half way through cooking time.

TRADITIONAL MEATBALLS

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup ground veal

1/2 cup ground pork

2 diced cloves of garlic

2 eggs

1 cup Romano cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 cups cubed, stale Italian style bread

1-1/4 cup warm water

1 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

In a large bowl combine the beef, veal and pork, mix with both hands and then add the garlic, basil, Romano. Season well with salt and pepper and add the bread crumbs and the water and mix again. Form into equal size meatballs, about the size of a small egg. Roll them with both hands so that they are round and firm. Add the oil to a sauté pan, heat to medium, but not so hot the meatballs will burn. Cook in small batches, turning often until done. Drain on paper towels and serve as you wish.

JOSEPHINE'S MEATBALLS

1 pound ground beef

1 pound fatty ground pork

1 egg

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

1 chopped red onion

1 small chopped bell pepper

3-6 cloves garlic

2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Italian Seasoning

Combine all the ingredients carefully, making sure not to compress the mixture too much. Form into small meatballs and sear in hot olive oil just until browned, but not done. Remove and place in a pot of simmering red sauce and continuing to cook until done and the sauce is seasoned by the meatballs. The sauce is much improved if you break up several of the meatballs into small pieces and allow to simmer in the sauce. Serve over pasta. This sauce, like all red sauces is better the next day.

RED SAUCE

1 can Italian San Marzano whole tomatoes

1 cup dry red wine

1 chopped red onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup grated carrot

3-4 diced cloves of garlic

1 cup water

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Black pepper

Italian seasoning

Sauté the onions, celery and carrots in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, black pepper and Italian seasoning and the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add the red wine and reduce by one half. Remember if the wine is not good enough to drink and enjoy, it is certainly not good enough to cook with. Add the whole tomatoes and one cup of water and simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and re-season as necessary. If you want a more intense sauce use beef stock instead of water.

How much sauce to use is also a personal choice, although to the Italians sauce is a condiment to be served sparingly over pasta.

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