While delving thru the icy packets in my deep freeze, I came upon a large Ziploc bag containing just one meatball. Once upon a time, it apparently had other close companions, but now it was a loner.
I thought to myself, “Why did I leave just one meatball in that big bag?” Then it occurred to me. I had cleverly left it behind as a reminder that my meatballs needed to be replenished. No need to look any further.
This “coded message” from my freezer came on the same morning I saw Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe for Meatballs with Any Meat. She also had another entitled Real Meatballs and Spaghetti.
I was pleased to see she had used the “secret ingredient”–one I discovered in the 70’s, and, thereafter, included in my favorite meatball recipe. (I’m talking about that classic recipe from the old red and white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.)
“What Makes Those Meatballs
Over the years, I’ve added only one additional ingredient. I once asked for the secret to the tasty meatballs cooked by Italian nonas at their annual Rosati Spaghetti Supper in Phelps County. (Readers from the area will remember those occasions fondly.)
A friend, who helped in the church kitchen, passed on the secret. She whispered in my ear: “a pinch of nutmeg.” And added, “Freshly grated, of course.”
There are even more ways to assure getting a tasty meatball. Give these a try:
- Before forming the meat balls, sauté a test ball to check for seasonings. Adjust your meat mixture accordingly. A small detail, but a big difference.
- In place of the Panko suggested in the NYT, you can also use homemade bread crumbs. (America’s Test Kitchen even uses potato flakes.) But I still make the panade from my 70s meatball recipe. It calls for bread and milk (or water), mashed and added to the meatball mixture for a smooth texture.
- The tasty little orbs can be made of beef, pork, veal, venison, chicken, turkey, or lamb. But beef, or a beef/pork mixture, is the star of the meatball galaxy. They greatly compliment a rich, Italian, marinara sauce. Like peanut butter and jelly, pasta and meatballs were made for each other.
- Cooked and frozen meatballs can be readied for the table by steaming them in a covered skillet with a bit of water until they’re cooked through.
- Instead of frying or broiling, Alton Brown bakes meatballs in muffin pans, either standard or mini size. Just heat oven to 350-375 degrees and put meatballs in the lightly oiled pans. Bake 5- 8 minutes, turning once with a spoon. Bake another 5-8 until browned. Easier, healthier and less messy than frying in oil.
Meatballs Have a Well-Rounded History
First enjoyed by the Xin Dynasty in 200 BC, these meaty orbs have since gone worldwide in some form or another.
Meatballs may well be the perfect food for several reasons. They’re easy to make, everyone likes them, and they make a small amount of ground meat go a long way.
They can be eaten alone like M&Ms or sauced up and placed atop a bed of noodles. Smash them between two slices of bread for a hefty sandwich. And they freeze well—but disappear fast.
Lisa Schlesinger says
FIrst eaten in China?! Fabulous trivia question…who would have guessed. I wonder how that was determined…I don’t doubt it all, and am now very curious…
I’m in Minnesota for a while and they have a tasty, commercially produced beef meatball with wild rice, from the No-Name steak purveyors.
I love the muffin tin Idea, and the nutmeg, freshly grated.
Thank you for anothr great post–
Freda Shen says
One of my favorite Chinese dishes is Lion’s Head, which are pork meatballs (the heads) on a bed of Chinese cabbage (the mane). Traditionally the pork is high in fat and hand-chopped in order to get the best texture and tenderness. My mom told me that you chop the fat in with the meat, because as the meat cooks, the fat dissolves out, leaving the meat filled with tiny holes which create the tender fluffy texture. Italians know a good thing when they taste it. Thank you Jean, for that secret ingredient in the Italian meatballs!
Jean Carnahan says
Lion’s Head . . . sounds like a rare orchid species. I need to look this one up and learn more about these meatballs. Sounds fascinating.