Spaghetti and meatballs-- it’s a classic. It’s the first thought most Americans have when they hear Italian food. That, and the red and white checkered tablecloths, the candle in the Chianti bottle and “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin playing in the background. But even though this all-too-familiar scene for Americans has very little to do with actual Italian culture, I thought I would take you through the steps of making some authentic polpette (meatballs).
First, the ingredients. Now, I need to make a note here about measurements. I don’t often measure and the little bit that I do gets me teased because Italians don’t measure! It’s just not their style. So I have done my best to estimate what I used, but please don’t use the figures like rules. I encourage you to go without measuring, it’s more fun that way!
For the meatballs you will need:
500g of ground beef (¼ lb.)
Small fist of seasoned bread crumbs (½ c.)
3 cloves minced garlic
Handful of Italian parsley (2 tbs. chopped)
Olive oil (2 tbs.)
Salt, black and chili pepper to taste
Beat the egg in a mixing bowl and add the ground beef to coat. Toss in the rest of your ingredients and mush it all together with your hand, making sure that everything is well incorporated and it becomes pale and sticky. Now, at this point, I added a bit of ketchup (Shh! Don’t tell anyone! I learned it from Giada, so it’s ok. And it’s her secret too). It adds a little somethin-somethin.
Ok, so start makin’ your meatballs! The size is up to you, I prefer mine bite-size but you can also make them super big (just realize that the bigger the meatball, the longer it takes to cook). In Italian, really big meatballs are called polpettone and could even be the size of sub sandwich stuffed with mozzarella and ham and baked in the oven. Anyway, take a tablespoon amount of the mixture and roll it between your palms. Repeat until you have made them all.
Now you need to fry them, so wash your hands really well (they will be yucky) and heat about a ¼ inch of oil in a frypan. Make sure to use a good oil with a high heat threshold like sunflower, peanut or palm oil (olive oil is not good to fry in because it burns at high temperatures). Avoid cooking with cotton and soybean oil like it’s the plague!
With the heat on medium to medium high, carefully add your meatballs to the oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. After a minute or so, turn each meatball to another side until they are browned all around. Drain them on a plate lined with plenty of paper towels.
There you go! Lotsa meat-a-balls! At this point, you can freeze them (or some of them) for later or you can start to make your sauce. Ah, see that? I have been converted—I say “make your sauce” because here it is scandalous to pop open a jar of pasta sauce. You have to make it from scratch with onions and garlic, a jar of tomato puree and seasoning. But who I am I kidding? I know my fellow Americans will just use a jar of sauce. Simmer your meatballs for at least 10 minutes in your sauce to incorporate the flavors (longer for larger meatballs).
So when you’re all done enjoying the bejeezes out of your spaghetti, you can do what the Italians call scarpetta (which means little shoe). Take a piece of bread and sop up all the remaining sauce from your plate.
Mmm…that was yummy!