Friday, September 25, 2009

Really good meatballs and a meatball mistake

There are hundreds of methods for making great meatballs. While I hope that you find one you love and stick with it, you may want to experiment. A warning, though: "Healthy," Crunchy, Dampened Flavor Meatballs are a particularly bad idea.

Without an Italian Grandmother, my Spicy Meatball Odyssey took decades. Finally, I gratefully borrowed a method from generations of Nonnas, who take sturdy white bread and make a panade (paste) with milk or buttermilk. I made it my own by adding teeny tiny dice of sautéed pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, garlic and hot peppers, and learned that hot Italian sausage is the secret to a spicy meatball. Finally, because fresh meatballs give up their flavor when cooked in sauce, I now bake them and then add them to cooked sauces. They also make great meatball sandwiches.

Why mess with a good thing? Sometimes the urge to experiment is overwhelming. Learn from this: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I wanted a “healthy” meatball, and armed myself with a Healthy Hearty Whole Grain Bread That Was Fully Packed with Nuts, Seeds and Berries. Perhaps because it was a very tiny and very heavy and because I toasted it to enhance the "health," the texture and flavor of the meats and the spices were whomped by dead bread. Worse yet, crunchy nuts, seeds and berries are not friends to meatballs.

My meatballs are always different from one another, based on what was in my fridge or pantry or what meat combination was appealing. But one thing is certain, I'll always stick with plain bread...

Really good meatballs (freely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles, Clarkson Potter, 2000)

4 slices of sturdy white bread, cut into small pieces
1 cup of buttermilk (fresh or made with butttermilk powder)
1 cup total after cooking (your pantry’s choice: tiny dice of pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, garlic & hot peppers)
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
2 T minced fresh or 1T dried parsley
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
½ tsp salt
1 T fresh ground pepper
2 pounds of mixed ground meats (your choice: ground beef, ground beef/pork/veal meatloaf mixture, with at least one-third Spicy Italian Sausage)

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Cover a large sheet pan with foil, and Pam™ a rack that fits into or over the pan.
2. Soak the bread in the buttermilk for at least 10 minutes. Stir it vigorously to make a paste. Add the pepperoni-vegetable mixture, the cheese, parsley, egg, salt and pepper.
Add the meat and mix thoroughly.
3. Make meatballs as large or as small as you like.
4. Bake for 10 minutes. Check for doneness (are they cooked through?) and turn them and bake for 5-10 additional minutes. Add to sauce right away or cool on the rack.
5. To freeze, lay them out on a clean baking sheet. When frozen solid, pack into freezer bags or containers.
Recommended reading: Carol Field's In Nonna's Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions From Italy's Grandmothers. I read this straight through like a novel. Even if you never cook from it, you'll be inspired by the stories and you'll treasure the history.

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