Thursday, July 30, 2009


I can't believe I'm sharing this.  As my fingers tremble trepidatiously over the keyboard, my eyes twitch, sweat begins to pour from my chilled brow like summer rain glistening off a cold marble statue.  A feeling of loss begins to settle in the pit of my stomach, but also a feeling of relief, a kind of unburdening; almost as if I were holding onto a secret too big for me, something too important for the world, that was bigger than my own selfishness.  I can do this.  I can... share.  Elmo tells me that sharing is good for me, that I will get lots of new friends if I share what I have.  I have heard like comments from Big Bird, Ernie, The Count, Snuffleupugus, and even the gluttonous Cookie Monster.  My daughter is obsessed with Sesame Street.

In all seriousness, I have spent years perfecting this recipe.  How complicated could a freakin' meatball possibly be?  Well, for me it has been an obsession, a quest to find the sublime in the simple, and I think I have it.  Years ago in my fledgling period as a young cook, I tried a nice lean ground sirloin thinking that lean ground beef was good.  Big mistake, not enough fat to keep the meatballs flavorful, and they ended up dry and uninteresting.  Then I tried the quintessential Italian blend of ground veal, pork, and lamb.  I gotta say that I enjoyed these, but yet something seemed still to be missing.  The lamb I definitely liked, I liked the slight gaminess to the overall flavor, but the texture still didn't satisfy me.  After that I went to a full fat ground chuck.  Now this I really liked.  It had the fat content to keep the meatball nice and juicy, and had a nice bold and beefy flavor.  Some people say that there should be a delicate flavor to a good meatball.  I have to say, yes, and no to them.  A good meatball should have a delicate texture, but a bold taste.  It's a MEATball for heaven's sake.  It's made with meat, not fairy dust.  After trying many combinations I finally landed on one that I like.  The ratio is 3/4 pounds of ground chuck, and 1/4 pound ground lamb.  With the pork, it had too delicate a flavor for me.  Now don't get me wrong, I love all things porcine, but the ground pork did not work for me.  Perhaps I could get my pork a different way.  Hmmm....

Then came the other ingredients.  The fillers.  Cheese must go into a meatball, and I used the king for a long time.  Parmigiano Reggiano.  This cheese puts a smile on my face.  It is the best of the best, the greatest of the great.  It is also the most expensive of the expensive.  When I was using ground veal, pork, and lamb with the Parmigiano Reggiano I was spending upwards of $25 for all the ingredients to go into a MEATBALL.  The most peasant of foods, it just didn't seem right.  So I opted for my second favorite Italian cheese, the pecorino Romano.  This sheep's milk cheese has just the right flavor to compliment the lamb, and also the perfect salt content for the meat so we can avoid seasoning the meat itself with any salt.  Perfect.  I used dried pre-made canned bread crumbs for a while, but opted out of that for the sake of making my own, not from stale bread, but from fresh bread.  It gave the meat the softer texture I was looking for.

Finally the binders.  This you will say.  OK buddy, you lost me here.  You dropped the ball (pardon the pun) but trust me, I know what I'm talking about here.  For every pound of meat, I use four eggs, and a half cup of whole milk.  WHAT!!???  That's an awful lot of eggs isn't it?  No.  Basically we are making a soft custard inside of the meatballs that hold the ingredients together.  One egg alone makes a tough meatball, we don't want that.  We also don't want it to fall apart.  The breadcrumbs with the egg binders help guard against that.  SO lets go onto the last bit shall we?

The seasonings.  I have used oregano, rosemary, fennel, and every other Italian herb under the sun.  I've even used fresh mint to try and compliment the lamb.  No dice.  I want to taste the meat, but still have a nice herbaceous flavor as a compliment without overpowering.  The director's cut is...  Basil and parsley.  I add garlic and a slight bit of onion as well, but I like to keep it on the simpler side.  But the final secret ingredient is 1/4 tsp of fresh ground nutmeg.

So shall we make meatballs?

You can feel free to double or triple this recipe if you like.  The cooked meatballs freeze well for a couple of months, but really they don't last that long in my house.

3/4 Lb ground chuck
1/4 Lb ground lamb
4 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cup freshly grated french bread crumbs
1 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup minced or grated sweet yellow onion
5 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup minced fresh basil
1/3 cup minced fresh flat leafed Italian parsley
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
several generous turns of fresh cracked black pepper

Option.  Sometimes when I feel like I need a little pork in my meatballs I add 1/8 lbs of prosciutto that I have diced and crisped in a frying pan.  YUM!

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Form into golf ball sized balls and place on a lightly oiled jelly roll pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.   Let them rest in marinara sauce and serve with spaghetti.  

I'm having a hard time hitting the "publish post" button.  My hand is quivering again.  Maybe I won't share.  Maybe I'll keep it.  Yes...  It came to me, my precious...  The ring is mine!!!

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