Polpette

“Italian for meatball, they are usually eaten as a main course or in a soup. Every Italian kitchen has its own recipe, but the typical meatball is made of ground pork or beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, cheese, garlic and onion.”

The size of a meatball depends on its region of origin. Usually, they’re mixed and shaped by hand to the size of a golf ball; in Abruzzo, they’re the size of marbles and called polpettine. I saw a cooking special with Rocco di Spirito when he helped make meatballs about the size of a hacky sack. This week, I chose meatballs as my Saturday Football Game meal. The SO and I were out and about running errands and on our way home, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up beer. I wandered over the meat counter to look for inspiration.

Not to get on a tangent, but I will never buy fish for as long as we live in Southern Great Plains State. Every fish counter I’ve ever walked past in this state has smelled so strongly of ammonia and fish that even if I did cook fish, I wouldn’t touch those fish counters with a ten foot pole.

Anyway, when the natural ground sirloin caught my eye, I knew what I was going to make: meatballs. Meatballs are pretty simple but to make them special, I went to my butcher at Artisan’s Pride and got his special Meatloaf Mix (I felt like I would be cheating on him if I bought ground beef someplace else). It’s 50% beef, 30% pork, and 20% veal. I’ve seen it many times and heard how great it was, and finally had the occasion to buy it.

Ingredients: Meatloaf Mix, minced garlic, dried basil, dried ground rosemary, grated Parmesan cheese, Italian breadcrumbs, and an egg.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Most recipes will pan fry the meatballs and then finish their cooking in a vat of red sauce. I deviate from this by baking them (details later). Another way to reduce the fat content is to use ground turkey but if you use extra lean, you’ll have to add a dab or so of olive oil… otherwise, they’ll turn into inedible dry little marbles.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. I used freshly grated Parmesan (is there any other kind?) and Progresso Italian breadcrumbs which are nice because they have extra seasoning. I have seen recipes that call for stale bread soaked in milk, then wrung out and added to the mix instead; I want to try this variation whenever I have stale bread on hand. You’ll need a whole egg which acts as the glue to the mix and adds some moisture. I used dried basil and a ground rosemary that I bought at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder, Colorado when I was there two years ago. I know, cooking sensibility says that I shouldn’t use spices that are that old- especially ground ones- but it’s still good and I’m not wasting two ounces of organic rosemary!

Here’s where I’d like to extol the virtues of minced garlic in a jar. Most professional chefs would beat me if I said minced garlic in a jar is a good product, but hey, I don’t really care what they say. I like using garlic in my cooking, but what I don’t like is buying a whole bulb of garlic only to find out that all of the cloves have sprouted green shoots and are unusable (which happens frequently in SGPS). I started using minced garlic in a jar after I found out that my future mother-in-law uses it, and I haven’t looked back since. It lasts forever in the fridge, but it’s usually gone before too long. Plus, if I’m feeling extra adventurous, I’ll use a little garlic juice from the jar in my recipes.

When mixing meatballs, lots of people will use their hands and squish the mixture to death. While using your hands is the best way to mix meatballs, squishing it into an unrecognizable mass of meat is not. You want to loosely combine the ingredients with your fingers, almost like tossing a salad. It might take a little longer than if you mixed it like a toddler with Play-Do, but you will be rewarded with a better texture. A key step after combining the ingredients is shaping the mixture into a large ball and allowing it to rest for 30 minutes. This lets the flavors combine and meld and some people let the mixture sit in the fridge for a night before making the meatballs. I had never done this before and I think it really helps.

I am a stickler for uniformity. It’s a curse of having an OCD personality type. This causes me to use a tablespoon to measure out my meatballs whereas others would just eyeball it. I used a slightly rounded tablespoon of meatball mix and shaped it lightly with my hands (again, not squeezing it to death). Out of this batch, I made 27.5 meatballs; yours should yield about 25-30.

I baked them on a cookie sheet for 25-30 minutes, then drained them on paper towels.

While the meatballs baked, I prepared my red sauce. This past summer, I made about two gallons of red sauce out of Roma tomatoes, Dadi broth, and garlic and froze them in quart bags to use later. It’s nice because I’m not committed to making the same sauce over and over. I can customize it however I want and in this recipe, I sauteed diced onions low and slow until they were soft and translucent (around 25 minutes).

To them, I added a healthy tablespoon of tomato paste and thinned it out with red wine. Then I added the quart of thawed red sauce, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Once the meatballs were done and drained, I put them in the red sauce to simmer while the pasta cooked.

Et voila. Spaghetti and meatballs.

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