Still making meatballs

I’m so curious about this meatball trend. Haven’t meatballs always been good? Are there chefs who stopped making meatballs for a time or even more unimaginable, consumers who gave up eating meatballs? This new fad is a bit mysterious to me, since I’ve been making meatballs since I was old enough to recreate my Grandma Michelina’s.

So I admit I have probably inherited the meatball gene which may explain why I never stopped making or eating meatballs. Apparently there are lots of people rediscovering them and they’re waiting in two hour lines to eat them at the bar at the popular Meatball Shop in Manhattan.

My grandma’s recipe involved simmering her veal-beef-pork meatballs in gravy (her word for marinara) with spicy Italian pork sausage. It’s hard to say whether they were better hot on a napkin with salt before they hit the gravy, or gently cooked in the sauce for hours then ladled onto some crusty Italian bread and eaten as a grinder.

She always fried hers in plenty of olive oil, but I’ve taken to baking them, which I’m sure wouldn’t go over too well with her were she alive to find out. They’re not as sturdy baked, but to tell you the truth, all that oil makes my belly hurt and it’s such a buzz kill to eat a delicious meal and then get a stomach ache afterwards.

But now that EVERYONE is making meatballs, there are a lot of interesting variations coming down the pike (recipes like alligator meatballs and meatballs with orange). I like lamb balls simmered in cinnamon-spiked marinara–great with warm Israeli couscous. Then there are the Mexican mini meatballs, made with salsa Verde, beef, and ground tortilla chips and served with salsa or tossed with taco salad ingredients. I recently saw a bunch of Superbowl recipes for chicken meatballs seasoned with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese, meatball sliders, meatball paninis, and meatballs grinders, including one with caramelized onions and Gruyere.

Other ways I enjoy meatballs include escarole and pipini soup with tiny chicken meatballs, and those Asian-style appetizers I’ve made for weddings with pork sausage, beef, ginger, scallions, and water chestnuts and served with a sweet and spicy chili-garlic dipping sauce.

It seems that you can substitute meatballs in many recipes that normally use ground meat, like a version of Shepard’s pie I saw once that was made with meatballs instead of browned meat, but covered with the usual mashed potatoes. My favorite recipe is still my Grandma’s.

Michelina’s Meatballs (Baked)

  • 1/2 each ground beef, veal and pork
  • 1 yellow onion minced fine
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced fine
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups bread crumbs made from stale Italian bread
  • 1/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400. Mix all the ingredients except the meat in a bowl with your clean hands. Add the meat and mix till just blended. Form into balls about 1 1/2 inches across. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Serve with a hearty marinara, spaghetti and Parmesan cheese.

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