Jim Coleman | Meatballs, Italian-style

Posted: September 20, 2007

Q: A friend insists his meatballs are the best. He uses only ground sirloin, garlic and grated potato. His mother is Italian. Well, so is mine and I never heard of meatballs prepared this way. My other friend heard about this, and she then used grated sweet potato in her meatloaf. She said it was great. I use bread soaked in milk in my meatballs. Could you comment and give your recipe for meatballs, Italian style? Thank you very much.

- Josephine P.

A: Some are asked to comment on the state of the U.S. economy, others are interviewed to comment on our political system. Me, I'm singled out to comment on meatballs.

As it happens, I know a thing or two about meatballs. Ever since ancient times, cooks have been preparing dishes concocted from chopped or ground meat mixed with a wide variety of other ingredients, including bread, rice, vegetables and, yes, even potatoes.

Before the mid-1800s, meatballs and meatloaf preparations were made mostly from meat that was already cooked. It wasn't until there was some form of home refrigeration that the general public felt safe buying raw ground meat.

The main reason that other ingredients were added to the meat (whether it was raw or already cooked) was to stretch the meal to feed as many people as possible. Meat has always been relatively expensive, and the addition of bread, rice or potatoes helped ensure that everyone got enough dinner. There were other reasons, too.

For instance, during World War II when things like eggs were in short supply, potatoes were added to ground-meat recipes to act as a binder. And rather than throw anything away, thrifty cooks throughout time have tossed a handful of perfectly good food into the cooking pot.

Sometimes a good cook can make use of food even if it is less than prime, such as stale bread. That's how bread crumbs were born - not to mention some great meatballs and bread salad. Of course, today these are considered gourmet preparations!

The use of such fillers in meatballs and meatloaf adds much to the texture and overall flavor of the preparations. I'm sharing a meatloaf made with potatoes - a recipe that I think you will like - as well as a couple for Italian meatballs.

By the way, you might not know that Italy obviously had spaghetti and also meatballs, but until Italian immigrants in the United States put the two together, they had never been seen on the same plate. Just another little comment on meatballs from the expert here. *

Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and is the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows – "A Chef's Table" on WHYY (91-FM) at noon Saturdays and "Flavors of America," on Channel 12 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and CN8 Monday through Friday, 4:30 p.m.

JOSEPHINE'S BEST MEATBALLS 1

1 pound (combined) ground beef, veal and pork

3 large eggs, lightly whipped

1 cup grated Romano Locatelli cheese

cup bread crumbs

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

Do all the mixing by hand. In a large bowl mix the ground meat with the eggs. Add the cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, pepper and salt. Mix well to make sure all the garlic does not end up in one meatball.

Roll the meat into balls roughly two inches in diameter. You should get 18 to 20 meatballs per pound.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place meatballs on a rack inside a rimmed cookie tray and bake for 12 minutes on one side, then 10 minutes on the other.

JOSEPHINE'S BEST MEATBALLS 2

1/2 cup bread crumbs

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 pound ground pork (or veal)

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1/4 cup olive oil

In a large bowl combine the bread crumbs, egg, ground beef, ground pork, Parmesan cheese, oregano, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, allspice and black pepper. Mix the ingredients together well by hand until the mixture is smooth.

Shape the meat into small balls about 1.5 inches in diameter. Chill for at least 1 hour.

Heat the quarter-cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs on all sides until brown (7-10 minutes). After you cook each batch of meatballs, transfer them to a baking pan or cookie sheet and place them in a warm oven (125 degrees) while cooking the other meatballs.

YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS MEATLOAF

1 pound extra-lean ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork or ground chuck

1 cup diced onion

1 medium baking potato, shredded

1 small sweet potato, shredded

cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs

cup tomato sauce

1/2 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano and thyme

1/4 cup tomato sauce

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients until well blended. Pack into a lightly greased meatloaf pan or loaf pan, or shape into a loaf and place in an 11-by-7-inch baking dish. Bake for 1 hour.

Pour off excess grease, spread the tomato sauce over the top of the loaf and bake for 20 to 30 minutes longer. Serves 6 to 8.

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