We’re mad for meatballs. We certainly are.
Consider that loyal diners nearly revolted when San Francisco’s A16 once halted its popular ”Monday Night Meatball” special. No worries, as that curtailment was short-lived, and the meatballs are safely back on the Monday menu.
What is it about meatballs that we can’t get enough of? There’s something so comforting in their rustic presentation. They’re a little more special looking than a hamburger; a little more playful than a big hunk of meatloaf.
When I dined at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, the pizza was the star, of course, and the butterscotch budino for dessert was out of this world, too. But the appetizer of “meatballs al forno” nearly stole the show with their incredibly light texture, and subtly spiced tomato sauce. I could have eaten the entire plateful, well, if there weren’t two other people with me.
When I’m jonesing for meatballs, I turn to this favorite recipe from “The Complete Meat Cookbook”by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly. Heap these bold tasting meatballs over pasta or soft polenta, and you can’t go wrong.
Bucci’s Italian-American Meatballs
(serves 4 to 6)
1 pound ground beef chuck mixed with ½ pound mild or hot Italian sausage, removed from its casing, OR 1 ½ pounds ground beef chuck
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil (optional)
1 teaspoon salt (1 ½ teaspoons if using only ground beef)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs such as basil, marjoram, or sage or any combination of these, OR ½ teaspoon dried basil, marjoram or sage
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
For quick tomato pan sauce:
1 cup chopped onions
¼ cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef or chicken stock
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in puree
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil OR 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make meatballs: In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients except olive oil, kneading and squeezing mixture until everything is well blended. Moisten your hands with water and shape meat into 1 ½-inch balls.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown meatballs on all sides for 5 to 7 minutes. Alternately, you could place meatballs in a lightly oiled, shallow roasting pan and brown them in a preheated 450-degree to 500-degree oven for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time.
You can eat the meatballs as is (if so, cut into one to see that they are cooked all the way through; if not, cook a little longer.) Or you can simmer them, as traditional Italian-American cooks do, in a tomato sauce. You also could pour an Italian-style tomato sauce over the meatballs and bake them, covered, for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Use your own favorite sauce or this quick tomato pan sauce.
To make quick tomato pan sauce: Remove meatballs from skillet and set them aside. To the fat in the pan, add onions, celery, and garlic. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until wine is reduced to about ¼ cup. Add stock and tomatoes, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Add basil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Put meatballs back into pan and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and keep them warm. Skim any fat from sauce, bring to a boil, and reduce it until syrupy, if desired. Taste for salt and pepper. Spoon over cooked pasta of your choice (1 pound for four people) and add a couple of meatballs to each plate.