Why? In my opinion, meatballs are one of the most underplayed components of almost every Italian restaurant’s menu. I’m not saying that everyone gets them wrong, but the fact is that more often than not, they are under-seasoned balls of nondescript beef that are dry and boring.
I often wonder why people settle for this, but when I think about it, I may have my standards set too high. You see, the first recipe taught to me in my grandmother’s kitchen were meatballs, cooked to be added to a Sunday Sauce.
In those days, I was taught to measure the proper ingredients by the feel of the mixture in my hands. I took these lessons very seriously, and in time I mastered them and began to improve upon them. Today, it is rare that I serve the following recipe to a client. However, it’s very often that these tasty traditional treats adorn my own family table, which is what really counts when the day is done.
Grandma’s Italian MeatballsMakes 12 medium-sized meatballs
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground veal
1 medium yellow onion (small dice)
4 cloves of garlic (small dice)
2 tbls. chopped Italian Parsley (rough chop)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 egg (beaten)
½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt (plus more to season to taste)
Olive oil for sauté and frying
In a sauté pan, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan and set the flame to medium. Allow the olive to heat through and add the onions with a good pinch of salt. Allow to sweat until translucent and add the garlic. Continue sweating this mixture until the garlic begins to take on color, but do not let it brown. Immediately remove the mixture from the pan to cool and spread out over parchment paper or a foil-lined sheet pan.
In a large bowl, begin assembling the remaining ingredients. Add the chopped meats, egg and parsley. With clean hands (hands are the best utensil to use for this preparation), mix the contents of the bowl. Then add the onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, pepper and salt. Mix again with your hands until fully combined. Create a small test meatball (you must taste for seasoning).
Fill a fry pan with enough olive oil to come 1/2 of the way up the test meatball. Put the flame on medium and allow the oil to heat through. Next, add the test meatball to the pan. Watch carefully to assure that the oil isn’t too hot. The meatball shouldn’t sear immediately but should instead stay 2–3 minutes on each side between turning. Once it has browned on each side, remove to a paper towel to drain. Once cooled, give it a taste. If it needs more salt or pepper, add it now.
When happy with the mixture, begin to roll out your meatballs. Be careful not to make them too big or you risk not cooking them through. You should be able to roll out 12 meatballs.
Add them to the oil, again making sure they do not burn. Lower or raise the flame as necessary, but remember that these will be further cooked in sauce or the oven. Once they are browned on both sides, you have two options. One- you could continue to bake them in a 350 degree oven, covered in foil, for thirty minutes and then serve them dry with sauce on the side. Two, my favorite- you can add them to your favorite sauce and simmer them for 15-20 minutes and spoon them over your favorite pasta. What’s great about this method is that the flavors of the sauce and meatballs mix and bolster each other.
No matter how you do it, they will taste great and can be even better the next day.
After working in the New York City restaurant scene, Eric Guido branched out, organizing private dining and tasting events centered around Italian cuisine and wine. Here he began to incorporate food photography and recipe development. His continuing work can be seen at www.theviptable.net. Eric’s passion for food and wine is fueled by the togetherness and satisfaction found at the table.