The perfect meatballs. (Stan Behalf for QMI Agency )
The meatball is my muse.
Like the proverbial clean slate, a meatball is the traditional artist's palate —the ingredients being a reflection of its creator's personality.
Lean beef? A blend of meats? No meat? Fresh garlic or none at all? Fried, baked or poached? Plain or in sauce?
It depends on tradition, culture and daring.
Mysterious in its heritage (and no, they're not the sole invention of the Italians as some would say, or even boast), the mighty meatball is truly the sum of its parts, — and, contrary to popular opinion, size does not matter when it comes to taste.
All this came to me when I recently set out to create a bowl of balls.
With instructions dating back decades ringing in my conscience, (yes, mother, I'lI cut back on the onions) I carefully assembled my ingredients, thinking ahead to the end result: Should I make my meatballs wee little marbles perfect for a pasta bake? Or should I roll out a more generous portion to adorn a length of linguini.
I toyed with the idea of shaping my balls into neat squares — I did this once, during my cubist period, and a time of angry kitchen rebellion.
But no one really noticed my avant-garde balls, with their excruciatingly precise corners. They were too busy hoovering plates full of flavour, with the occasional grunt of approval my only reward.
Lately, I've noticed meatballs have taken on an almost star-like quality in the food world: In all shapes and sizes, with brazen titles (We've Got Balls!), and served from food trucks to fine dining establishments. In sandwiches oozing fried peppers and mushrooms, elegant on fancy hors d'oeuvre trays or proudly commandeering a platter of pasta — meatballs rock.
I've tried many balls in my time, but the fact is....I like mine the best. They're infused with the ingredients and memories of my own heritage. Of watching my late mother matter-of-factly roll out meatballs with military precision on Sunday mornings, a simmering tomato sauce poised and ready to accept its reward.
Such inspiration from a humble little ball of flavour.
Handling balls with care:
Let your meatballs reflect your personality — far be it for me to tell you what tastes great and what doesn't. But a few tips on making a successful meatball:
If your using meat, don't work it too hard when blending all the ingredients or your meatballs will become little hard balls of despair.
When a recipe calls for bread crumbs, use fresh bread crumbs softened with a smidge of milk
Make sure all your herbs are finely minced. I use a chopper for this.
You have the option of frying your meatballs before adding to your sauce (or enjoying plain.) True, they taste amazing, but consider the added fat and calorie content. Plus, you'll have to roll them in dried bread crumbs before frying.
Wet your hands in cold water when rolling out meatballs. You'll work faster and you'll have a more uniform ball.
This is my personal favourite — I may or may not add some dried oregano, or a tad of grated Parmesan cheese. It just depends on what mood I'm in.
2 green onions, whites only
1 clove garlic
2 fresh basil leaves
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. (5ml) dried oregano
1 lb. (450 g) lean ground beef
1/2 lb. (225g) lean ground pork
2 Tbsp. (30ml) milk
1/2 cup (125ml) fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp. (5ml) grated nutmeg
8 cups (2L) prepared tomato sauce
In a food processor mince onions garlic, shallot, basil leaves, parsley and oregano. Set aside.
Place beef and pork into a large bowl. Break egg in centre. Add milk to fresh bread crumbs and mix. Add to meat. Add minced herbs, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Working quickly, lightly blend ingredients thoroughly (do not work meat to much.)
Prepare a wax-paper lined cookie sheet; wet hands in cold water and start rolling out meatballs into desired shapes.
If frying them, roll in dried bread crumbs and fry in vegetable oil. You can add them to prepared tomato sauce.
If you want to poach in your tomato sauce, drop meatballs carefully into simmer sauce, allowing them to poach for a few minutes before turning sauce several times. Simmer meatballs in tomato sauce for 45-55 minutes or until meatballs are thoroughly cooked through.