Saturday, January 24, 2009

Italian Meatballs

I hate nasty factory meatballs, with their spongy rubber ball texture. I know I said in my last recipe not to worry about making everything as authentic as an ethnic grandmother. When it comes to meatballs, I take it back a little. There is an art to meatballs that you shouldn't mess with too much, and it took me many failed attempts to arrive at this technique.

In image of meat in the bowl below, I photographed the meat mixture with the garlic and onion on top so you could see the consistency of all three but usually I would mix all together at the same time.

Ingredients: 1 lbs ground beef, 1 lbs ground pork, 2/3 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp Italian seasoning, 5 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp. salt coarse/kosher salt, 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, 1 red onion or a few shallots.

  • In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and milk and let rest (this is called a panade)
  • Wrap garlic in foil and roast at 350 for 30 minutes. Squeeze garlic from cloves and make a paste with the salt and olive oil (the coarseness of the salt helps grind up the garlic) - I use a mortar and pestle but a bowl and a wooden spoon would work too.
  • Grate onion on a cheese grater - the one you would use to grate cheddar. Place in bowl and soak in vinegar and water for 15 minutes to reduce the onion burp factor and then rinse in strainer
  • Wash your hands
  • Combine everything in bowl and work it gently into a uniform texture with your hands (see, aren't you glad you washed them?). Don't overwork these or they will become bouncy balls
  • Get out your broiler pan and spray the top insert. Put a little water in the bottom part - this keeps the grease from burning and the steam helps the meatballs cook on the bottom faster so they lose their shape less. Preheat your broiler.
  • Make meatballs. I like them medium size, which is 2 tbsp of meat mixture, or 36 meatballs in this recipe.
  • Place pan on a rack one up from the middle and broil 15 minutes (as always, broilers vary so keep an eye on them)
  • Remove and flip over to brown other side.
  • Break one open and see if it's done. If it's fully cooked, go ahead and eat it.
To freeze these, put them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper so they don't touch and pre-freeze, then put in bags. This way, they don't stick together and you can grab just a few for soup, spaghetti dinner, sandwiches, etc. To reheat, just toss in sauce and cook on the stovetop.

Note: Frying meatballs in olive oil is mighty tasty but it's a pain and not worth the effort and extra fat in my book. If you do choose to fry, lightly coat the meatballs in flour first. These are great not only in tomato sauce (aka gravy) but in my favorite food in the world, Italian Wedding Soup, which is basically a chicken soup to which you add escarole (found w/ the lettuce in some supermarkets), little meatballs (these are a little big but that's okay), cooked rice and plenty of grated Parmesan on top.

Frugal Factor: I spent $4.50/lb for the local grass-fed ground beef. I am not buying factory pork due to the horrendous cruelty and environmental impact, so I would pay $4.50/lb for that too if I hadn't had some pork chops from an Omaha Steaks box I got for Christmas and a meat grinder. Shoprite sells 85% lean ground beef for $2.59/lb and ground pork for $1.62/lbs. The cheese is probably $1/worth, and figure $1 for everything else. So that's $6.21 w/supermarket meat or $11 for local pastured meat. I think 4 meatballs is a nice portion (a little light for some), so that works out to 9 portions @ $0.69 - $1.22/portion.

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