One of my favorite meals is spaghetti and meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs, similar to a perfectly roasted chicken, is my ultimate comfort food. Interestingly, spaghetti and meatballs is not one of my favorite comfort foods because I grew up eating the dish, or because I have a special memory of a family member laboring over making meatballs. I have grown to love the meal on my own and find that I am quickly transported to a gastronomic euphoria by the smells of meatballs bubbling in homemade sauce on the stove.
I once said in a previous blog that a meatball is like a souffle: if it isn’t perfect, it just isn’t. With that, meatballs, for me, are little gastronomic gifts that can vary in significance based on the quality of the meatball. A store-bought meatball, or one that is made in haste with the minimum ingredients, is not very significant. It is like a $10 pedicure – a quick fix for the craving but doesn’t come with much pleasure. Conversely, a homemade meatball that is moist and has layered flavors from a trifecta of meats and fresh seasonings, one in which you can almost taste the labor that went into making it, is a very significant culinary gift. This latter meatball is a kin to the signature pedicure at a very nice day spa – completely satisfying and completely comforting.
A homemade meatball that is made exactly to my liking doesn’t come with ease or frequency. Actually, I tend to make them as often as I treat myself to a pedicure at a fancy day spa. But, after salivating over the cover of this month’s Gourmet magazine, the special Italian-American issue featuring a very appetizing bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, I was hungry for homemade, traditionally prepared, meatballs. Also, knowing that we had some house guests arriving after Christmas, spaghetti and meatballs seemed like the perfect meal for post-holiday gluttony. Here is a link to the recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Spaghetti-and-Meatballs-351190
Using the recipe featured in Gourmet as a guide (I wanted to improvise a bit), I spent an entire morning making approximately 3 dozen meatballs – I wanted more than enough to freeze for later meals! The Gourmet recipe seemed rather traditional and called for using the three meats (veal, beef and pork), homemade breadcrumbs and lots of onions and fresh spices. I took the recipe’s advice and used a medley of meats; I agree that a blend of ground meat makes a much better meatball – they are more moist and flavorful than a straight beef meatball, for example. I did, however, cheat a bit and used store-bought breadcrumbs rather than making my own. I also cooked the meatballs a bit differently than the recipe advised. I browned the meatballs in a large skillet as directed, but rather than cooking the meatballs through in my sauce, I baked the meatballs until they were completely cooked. I found that this allowed the meatballs to maintain the delicious crispy texture they get when they are browned and also allowed me to easily freeze them completely cooked.
I’ll allow the pictures below to tell the step-by-step preparation story, but these meatballs were not your mother’s (or your grandmother’s) meatballs. There was something about the combination of ingredients – maybe the fresh oregano, or perhaps it was that I baked the meatballs; a technique that I believe may have locked in all of their freshness and created a sort of a molten chocolate cake effect – flavors gushing out with a slice of a fork – but whatever the reason, these meatballs seemed a bit new-age and hip, despite the traditional labor that went into making them. They were moist, earthy, light, and most importantly, completely satisfying and comforting…much like that signature pedicure at a nice day spa.
Until next time…