OK so it isn’t the sexiest food in the world but who doesn’t love a meatball? Or for that matter any kind of ground meat, fish, poultry etc spiced up, flavored, fried, casseroled, stewed or grilled? Satisfyingly delicious and probably one of the most enjoyable things you can eat. Truth be known there are few foods as comforting as a juicy, tender meatballs… they are comfort food supreme!
There are also few dishes as diverse and represented in almost all world cuisines as the humble meatball, from soups, kebabs and sandwiches to saucy entrees.
My love affair with meatballs goes all the way back to my mother’s table. She wasn’t the most experimental of cooks being a working mom but our Jewish heritage made sure there were always some really good basic foods on the table at all times and her recipe for sweet and sour beef meat balls still lingers on my taste buds and might have been one of the early motivations for me to enter into the culinary world.
It would seem that every one’s mother or home cook has his\her own secret for the perfect meatballs. Over the years I have since experimented and rolled my fair share of meatballs and come up with a staple meatball bible that is still very flexible depending on my mood or what is in the fridge.
Burger V Meatball Let me be clear about this; a burger is a burger! A patty of freshly ground prime beef with a 30-40 % fat content seasoned only with salt and pepper and griddle fried only. The meatball is a totally different thing. “A meatball is ground or minced meat rolled into a small ball, sometimes along with other ingredients, such as breadcrumbs, minced onion, eggs, and seasonings. Meatballs are cooked by frying, baking, steaming, or braising in sauce” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatball
Here are a few tips for the perfect meatball:
The Protein: Traditionally half veal and half pork is used in the quintessential Italian meat ball but actually any ground meat or mix of ground meat you like will do. The fat content to get a juicy ball is very important and a 16 -20 % fat content is ideal. Personally I never ever buy pre-ground meat that you will find in all Supermarkets. I prefer to go straight to my favorite butcher, select the cut of meats I want with the preferred amount of fat content and have the butcher grind it for me. Ground lamb for a Typical Middle Eastern Style minced lamb kebab is outstanding. Turkey or chicken make great and lighter meatball but need more fat content so they do not dry out. Use 50/50 dark and white meat. Also watch the cooking a little more carefully; because they lack fat, they can overcook and become tough much more quickly.
Seasoning: Meatballs love to be seasoned. Generally about 1 teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper per 500 gram of ground protein will make for perfectly seasoned meat. Herbs and spices! They’re an important part of our meatball mix. But don’t feel like you have to stick to parsley only. Mix it up with herbs like coriander, mint, oregano, and marjoram. Add a pinch of cinnamon, ground cumin and coriander giving a pleasant Middle Eastern flavor and a subtle depth of taste.
Onion and garlic: This is a matter of taste. The addition of these delectable bulbs doesn’t affect the texture but for me half grated onion and 2 cloves of mashed garlic make all the difference to the flavor
Eggs and fillers are added to the meatball mix to bind the meat with all the other ingredients to produce light, airy meatballs. One large size egg to every 500 gram of ground protein will do the job. Sometimes I will soak some stale left over bread in milk as filler with the meat and include good quality breadcrumbs. Make sure not to add too much breadcrumbs, about a half cup per 500 gram of meat will suffice.
Don’t Overwork the Meat It is best not to overwork the meat — Put all of the ingredients into a preferably chilled cold bowl and mix with your fingertips all at once. Mix the meat just until they’re combined. I also recommend using your hands for this step to feel when things are mixed, you’re less likely to overwork the meat and the light touch of your hands combines all of the ingredients without crushing the meat.
Rolling the Meatball: Depending on how you’ll serve the meatballs, roll them to the size right for the dish. In soup smaller, bite-size meatballs are preferable. If they’re served in a sauce they should be larger, about 5 cm in diameter. On top of pasta or rice or couscous, a medium meatball will do. It’s all about your preference and how many you want in a portion and how hungry you are. Do not roll the meatballs with dry hands, the meat mixture will stick and make rolling a smooth ball difficult. Just lightly oil your hands (olive oil if possible), take the appropriate lump of mixture and roll between the palms of the hands until a smooth round ball id formed. Place the formed meatballs onto a parchment paper lined tray and chill in the fridge for about half an hour. This lets the mixture rest and get comfy with itself!
It’s all about the sear! The flavor produced by meat as it hits a hot oiled pan and the sizzle you hear is essential to a perfect meatball. Sear the balls for a nice caramelized crust. Do not over crowd the fry pan so that the balls are seared brown and not stewed. If you are serving the meatballs a la natural continue to fry on both sides until cooked through. If you intend to add them to a sauce then fry them just until the outside is nicely seared and then add to the ready hot sauce to continue to cook. I always swirl a little red wine into the fry pan after all the meatballs have been fried to catch up all the delicious scrapings and good stuff left in the pan. I add this to the sauce.
Sophie’s Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Sweet and sour sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 can tomato sauce (preferably Heinz)
The juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
the meat balls
1 kg ground beef chuck
2 eggs, beaten
⅓ cup long-grain white rice, parboiled for 3 minutes
1 cup bread crumbs
1 medium yellow onion, grated on the coarse side of a box grater
2 cloves garlic minced
2¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the sauce: In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the oil, then sauté the minced onion over medium heat until tender and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, and rinse out the can with ½ cup water to loosen any sauce that remains, adding that liquid to the pan. Stir in the lemon juice and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Make the meatballs: Put the ground meat in a large bowl. Add the eggs, rice, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and combine with a large fork. Work in the meat, handful by handful, until everything is thoroughly blended. Return the sauce to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Shape meatballs into oversized walnut size balls and drop them gently into the sauce. You should have 10 to 12. Cover and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, gently rotating and pushing the meatballs around halfway through the cooking so that they are thoroughly coated in sauce after about 15 minutes. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve very hot.
Israeli Meatballs with Tahini (Ketzitzot with Tahini)
1 kg of ground beef
Chopped parsley, about half a bunch
1 onion, grated
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
3-4 tablespoons bread crumbs
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sumac (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Ras al Hanout (middle Eastern mixed spice – optional)
1 cup raw tahini paste
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 cup chopped parsley
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients for meatballs and then shape into oval-shaped flattish balls. Chill in the fridge for half an hour Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan Fry on high until firm and brown. Flip them frequently so they don’t burn on one side. Meanwhile, put all the tahini ingredients except for the parsley in the food processor and process until smooth. If it’s too thick, add water. Add in the roughly chopped parsley at the end. Plate the meatballs, the drizzle with tahini.
Contrary to accepted belief spaghetti and meatballs actually didn’t originate in Italy. For sure, Italy has its own version of meatballs. They’re called polpettes, and are primarily eaten without any sort of pasta. If you do find spaghetti and meatballs in Italy, it’s mainly on the tourist route and in overpriced touristy restaurants. The beginnings of what is considered “Italian” spaghetti and meatballs began with Italian immigrants arriving to America between 1880 and 1920. Most of the immigrants were extremely poor, but when they realized that meat, which was considered a luxury food back home in Italy was much more readily available in their newly adopted land it quickly became quickly became a staple, and families were putting Polpettes (meatballs) more frequently on the table. Because canned tomatoes were among the only items available at local grocers and most of the early immigrants originated from Southern Italy it was incorporated into their familiar “Napoli” style marinara sauce Spaghetti also became greatly popular in the U.S. because it was one of the only Italian ingredients available. Soon people began eating all three together.
For the meatballs:
250 gram ground veal
250 gram ground pork
500 gram ground beef
5 slices white bread, crust removed, soaked in milk and squeezed dry
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
½ bunch chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten Olive oil
For the sauce:
Very good olive oil
1 onion grated
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
750 gram really good spaghetti, cooked according to package directions (Barrila or Decceccho)
Freshly grated Parmesan
Directions Place the ground meats, soaked bread and bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, lemon zest, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl.
Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into smallish meatballs. 14 to 16 meatballs.
Pour about 3 tablespoons olive oil into a large skillet. Heat the oil.
Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs.
Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.
For the sauce, heat more olive oil in the same pan.
Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and continue to sauté.
Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.
Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and lots of grated Parmesan.
And in the end…..if there is any leftover meatballs there is nothing better than a melting cheese meatball submarine sandwich
Serves 2 -3
6 – 8 left over grilled meatballs
150 gram mozzarella cheese
50 gram grated Parmesan cheese
1 fresh baguette cut into 2-3 lengths
Sauce 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Sugar, to taste Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions For the Sauce: Heat olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until sauce has slightly thickened. Stir in basil; season with sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside. Split the baguette sections in half lengthwise and hollow them out slightly from the inside to make room for filling. Toast the split baguettes, cut side down on a hot griddle or fry pan until lightly browned. Place the toasted bread, cut side up on a baking sheet and fill with meatballs. Spoon sauce over meatballs and top with mozzarella cheese and some grated Parmesan cheese. Place under grill and cook until cheese has completely melted. Remove from grill and serve immediately.