1 lb Ground Beef
1 lb Pork
1/3-1/2 lb Bacon
1 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup Parsley
Salt & Pepper
4 Cloves Garlic (optional)
1/2 an Onion, finely chopped (optional)
I found myself in Chicago for Christmas one year and had to decide what to have for Christmas Day dinner. Now, there are many fine restaurants in Chicago, but what always gets my gastronomic juices going is good Italian. Chicago rivals New York for good Italian food. I got it into my head to have an over-sized bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, What arrived was a feast for the eyes. The meatballs were about the size of lacrosse balls and they were swimming in sauce, atop a mountain of spaghetti. I was in heaven.
I should have walked away from the table right then. Any novice gastonaut should be able to tell you that food that looks that good could not possibly live up to appearance. The meatballs were hard, dry and lacked flavor. The sauce tasted as if it had come out of a supermarket jar. The spaghetti was overcooked and mushy. I like to think that this was the “B-String” crew in the kitchen – the regulars having been given time-off on Christmas Day. I was traumatized and vowed to make the meatballs that I had been denied. Read on.
There are a number of factors that went wrong with my Chicago experience. When the meatball mixture is over-handled, over-worked, it becomes dense. Dense meatballs are tough and take more time to cook, often making them dry. You can buy the best ingredients, but if you dehydrate them, you might as well use sawdust.
I often buy meat when it is discounted because it is about to reach its sell-by date. Part of this is cultural. I grew up in England and we allow our meat to age more than they do in the United States. I keep my refrigerator colder than most, at 34 degrees. This slows the growth of unwanted bacteria. Lastly, I use what I buy fairly soon or vacuum seal it and freeze it. Take a closer look at the ground beef above. There are two tell-tale signs that it has been vac-sealed and frozen. The bag system that I used to vac-seal is textured and you can see the impression on the meat. The other give-away is the round edges. The ground beef is soft when it goes in the bag and has the air removed. The result is the tendency to smooth and round-out the corners.
I got a great deal on this pork. This vac-bag contains about a pound and cost me around a dollar. Actually, there were three pieces for three dollars, but since I was repacking it at home, I parceled it out in more usable quantities.
So, overworked meatballs become dense, but add bacon and you add a little fat to keep them moist and, together with the pork and ground beef, you are adding layers of flavor.
In order to distribute the moistness and flavor the bacon needs to be ground in a grinders or so finely chopped in a food processor that it becomes minced.
The pork also needs to be ground or minced. You can control the texture by the fineness of your chop/grind. You now understand why – while not a lot – I leave the fat on the pork.
Put all of the meats in a large bowl, into which you are going to put all of the rest of the ingredients for the meatballs.
I buy my Parmesan in blocks and then grate it with my Kitchenaid. Parmesan is not what you would call a moist cheese. However, if you use the parm powder in the canisters from the supermarket, then you really are very close to my sawdust analogy.
I picket the parsley from my kitchen garden. Fresh and fragrant. You can put this is the added moisture column.
I don’t think it is worth buying breadcrumbs. Perhaps I will allow the odd package of Panko, but I had the dry, tasteless, sawdu… Well, you know where I am going with this.
I have two coffee grinders. I use one for coffee. The other is purposed for grinding spices and making breadcrumbs etc. This is another way to ensure that your meatballs are soft. Make your own breadcrumbs. You might as well make them a little healthy while you are at it.
Delores lays blue eggs, while Beatrice lays speckled eggs. I added a large, light-brown egg which Evadne thoughtfully provided and was all set to go.
Three beaten eggs are going to give you all of the moisture that you need. There are many recipes out there that would have you add milk. Not necessary. Your tastes may vary, but try it my way before you reach for the milk.
Add salt and pepper to taste, then add the egg and get stuck in with your hands to mix it all up.
I love my Kitchenaid and use it at every opportunity. However, another way to ensure that the meatballs are not overwork is to mix everything by hand. Now, I love the feel of the raw mixture. I am sad that many people have become so removed from the origins of their food that the idea of mixing this by hand is abhorrent to them. Pish!
I use an ice-cream scoop to make the actual meatballs. I can scoop it from the soft mixture and form the top of the ball with my palm.
Place the raw meatballs on a cookie sheet – with sides! Then broil them until they brown. You could do this is a frying pan, but you run the risk of breaking them. Soft… moist…mnnnnn
The turn them over (I use a couple of big serving spoons) and brown the other side.
Gently place the browned meatballs into your sauce, together with all of the fat, protein and juices that seeped into the baking tray during browning. Simmer for 20-30 minutes to finish off the meatballs and meld the added flavors in the sauce. Voila!
Next week I will show you have to make a simple, but effective sauce.