Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Like lots of Americans, I was under the impression that the proper, and traditional place for meatballs was atop a pile of spaghetti.
To be honest, we rarely ever had them just because the only way my mother made spaghetti was with a meat sauce. "Spag bol," as the English would say.
When we did have spaghetti with meatballs, it came from a can. I don't remember the brand name but it was the only canned spaghetti my father would allow in the house. Not that he was of Italian heritage. (My dad's family were German immigrants on both sides.) But he decided that the meatballs (forget the mushy pasta) were not that bad so it appeared on the table from time to time with the obligatory green can of "Parmesan," which was all many of us ever knew.
Enter the era of television cooking shows. Who knew we'd gotten it all wrong for all those years?
In Italian culture, the meatballs are not sitting on top of a nest of spaghetti like big brown eggs.
In fact, they don't make their appearance until the next course, the pasta having its own spot in the limelight. In addition to this, the meatballs are not the size of your head. They are, ofttimes, medium-sized flat patties. (Think sliders here.) I won't go into the why Italian food is so different here than in Italy. I will, however, direct your attention to the book, Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen by author and chef, Lidia Bastianich, an Italian immigrant who believes there's a legitimacy to Italian-American cuisine. And with whom I couldn't agree more. So however you like them...eat a meatball!!!
My first recipes will take us to Italy where many of us in American associate those tasty globes.
This recipe is one I developed after trying many.
Meatballs My Way

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
2 cloves garlic minced fine
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 eggs beaten
2/3 - 1cup grated pecorino romano
Pinch cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix to combine and form into balls. Fry in oil just until a crust forms.
Simmer in sauce until done. About 20-30 minutes.

This next recipe comes by way of Sicily from the book, Bitter Almonds, by and Mary Taylor Simeti* and Maria Grammatico. I have made one change after having made these a few times. The sauce does not seem to be adequate enough for as many meatballs as this makes. I always seem to end up with just a little sauce in a pot crowded with meatballs. I have, therefore, doubled the sauce recipe which should work out about right. Also, Ms Taylor Simeti has voided my opening remarks in this blog by suggesting the meatballs be served with pasta.

Sweet Meatballs

For the sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups warm water
5 1/2 cups tomato puree
One 4-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the meatballs:

1/3 pound whole blanched almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound ground beef
1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
1/3 cup currants
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
olive oil for frying

To make the sauce, saute' onion and garlic in olive oil just until translucent. Add tomato paste and warm water, stirring to dissolve the paste. Simmer for a minute and then add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, make the meatballs. Grind the almonds with the sugar. Combine the ground nuts with the meat, breadcrumbs, cheese, currants, pine nuts, cinnamon, salt and pepper and mix well. Shape into 2 1/2 inch patties, brown in oil and simmer in sauce for about 20 minutes.

*Mary Taylor Simeti has written several books on Sicily which I highly recommend for anyone interested in history and, more specifically, the history of food and place. In addition to Bitter Almonds I would recommend Pomp and Sustenance and On Persephone's Island.

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