Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dad's Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs
     My family is just crazy about pasta, but especially spaghetti and meatballs. Unfortunately, I never had an Italian grandmother, and while my own Nana, made tremendous blintzes, knishes, and home made bagels, tomato sauce and Italian food just weren't on the menu. My mother did make meatballs and sauce, but it was jar sauce and tough meatballs. The following recipe has been tweaked over the last twenty plus years to deliver tremendous flavor and a pillow soft, juicy texture. I don't pretend that they are authentic in any sense, but i have been making them since long before i had cable TV, or Food Network. There is a good dose of Betty Crocker in there, thanks to my wife's well used copy, and if you never buy any other cook book, that's a great place to start.

2 1/4 lbs. ground meat - I use 93/7 turkey & ground pork (80/20 best guess)
2 eggs - I like jumbo when available
1 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
1/2 cup Milk - low fat works just fine
1/2 cup ground Romano or Parmesan
2 tbsp dry basil
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

*** If you like really spicy meatballs, try 1 tbsp black pepper,
       or add 1 tsp cayenne or red pepper flake***

     In a large mixing bowl, the wider the better, whisk the eggs, milk, cheese, and all the seasoning together. While i love high end cheeses like i get from Salumeria Italiana, we consume a lot of grated cheese in our family. The store brand, at $4.49/ lb is just a lot more affordable. Let your own budget and taste buds be the guide, and don't feel guilty about breaking the rules.

     When the liquids etc. are well blended, whisk in the bread crumbs. We are breaking another rule here, classic recipes soak stale bread in milk and squeeze out the excess. My 2 to 1 ratio of bread crumbs to milk will give you juicy, soft meatballs, you just have to honestly get past the color when you mix them. At this point you should have a loose paste that has all the flavors you want, well blended before the meat goes in, for best flavor distribution, no spikes of garlic.

     I spread the paste in the bottom of the bowl, and start flaking in the meat, one pound at a time, using big wooden fork against the "grain" of the meat ribbons in the package. I use the big fork with a gentle hand to evenly mix without over working the meat. Fingers work well too, just don't squish everything together or the meatballs get tough. When i have the first pound fairly well mixed, I do the same with the next pound. The ground turkey and pork mix gives great flavor, and helps cut down on some of the fat. I tried the turkey because hamburger was over $5/ lb and the ground turkey was $2.99 for a 1 1/4 lb package. If you are not so concerned with fat, 80/20 hamburg and pork mixed does give that extra something, fat is flavor after all, but again, your food, your choice.

     Pre-heat oven to 425 with rack in the middle.Line a couple of baking sheets that fit on the same rack if possible, with parchment for easiest release. I use a medium plastic ice cream scoop, dipped in cold water along with my hand to form the meatballs, just a little bigger than a golf ball. The water dip help the release from the scoop and hand from getting caked with meat. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes depending on your oven, flipping halfway through. If your sheets don't fit on the same rack, rotate the sheets top to bottom to get most even cooking. You will get a nice light char on the meatballs that will add tremendous flavor to your sauce (recipe to follow)


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