I love the twentieth century.

Exactly Nine Spectacular Meatballs

The first time I made meatballs, I took the name at face value, balled up and fried some ground beef, and wound up with leaden orbs more suitable for sport than supper. Over the years, I’ve tried countless recipes and made dozens of balls, the majority of which have been inedible; I can’t get the soak-bread-in-milk-and-then-squeeze technique to result in anything other than frown-inducing weirdness. The successful exceptions have problematically yielded enough meat to feed a hockey team of third-trimester expectant mothers.

Perhaps I’m the last to discover the miracle of “meatball blend,” a mix of ground beef, pork and veal, combined and packaged in convenient one-pound units. No longer must a family of three ball in bulk. Last night, for the first time ever, I executed a leftover-less spaghetti and meatball dinner. May I present exactly nine spectacular meatballs.

1 lb meatball blend ground meat
1/3 C plain breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano (use fresh if you want, and have fun with that moist bag of wilted herb in your crisper)
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Skin-to-raw-meat-contact alert! Mix everything up in a big bowl, combining first with a fork, then going in with your hands. Knead until you can’t detect any egg slime, then knead a little more. Roll up 9 3″ balls, and pack them tightly or you’ll end up with more of a meat-scone.

Heat 1/4 C vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high (a cast iron seasoning opportunity, perhaps?) and add the balls once it’s hot but not smoking. Let them fry for 1 minute, then gently give each a quarter turn, and fry for 1 minute more. Keep quarter-turning in the same direction every 1 minute until the balls are brown around the middles. Then give each ball’s two remaining pink areas 1 minute, and your meatballs should be nicely sealed. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook and turn for about 5 more minutes (once brown, the meatballs will be much easier to move around without compromising their shape).

Now it’s time to sacrifice a ball. Remove one from the pan and cut it in half. It might be done, but it probably needs a few more minutes. After you determine the time left, throw the two halves back in the pan, cut side down, so they brown before going into your sauce.

Once you’ve transferred the meatballs to the sauce, pour most of the fat out of the pan, but leave 4 tbsp behind and use a metal spatula to scrape off anything stuck to the bottom. You say sludge, I say ambrosia. Either way, it will transform a jar of supermarket pasta sauce into something of which you’ll be eating much more than you had  planned.

She might as well call them oriental.

Tiny Meatballs

“Amuse bouche” is a term that makes me want to pistol-whip the utterer. I love the French language, the cheeses, the handful of representatives that I’ve met, but there is a dainty threshold, and “amuse bouche” crosses it. When “nibbly num-num” provides a less infuriating alternative, it’s time to consider reining in the cuteness. Or, we could just stop the categorizing at hors d’oeuvres and call individual items what they are. This self-explanatory HD is my simplified version of Martha’s Asian Meatballs on Snow Pea Picks, the introduction to which begins, “meatballs are an important part of classic Chinese cooking.” Her switch between the continental and national as synonyms troubles me, but we’re all bigots on some level(s), and I’ll own up to cleaning my house extra hard if my Puerto Rican in-laws are coming to visit. I can’t help it, their spotless floors put me to shame.

1 pound ground pork
6 oz sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing (I suspect this may be where Martha’s recipe veers from the traditional Chinese)
1/2 C chicken stock
1/4 C finely chopped water chestnuts
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 tsp ginger (powder)
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp chili paste
salt and pepper

Set your oven to 400. In a large bowl, combine the pork, sausage, shallot, water chestnuts, ginger and cilantro, and 2 tsp soy sauce with your hands, squishing the meats into one another until no distinction remains. Roll the mixture into 1″ balls and put them in a roasting pan. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, shaking the pan at 10 and 20 to encourage even cooking. Take the meatballs out and cut one in half to verify that they’re done, then transfer the balls to a heat-proof bowl and put them back in the oven at 200 to keep warm.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1 tbsp water. Set the roasting pan over a burner and turn the heat on to medium. Add the garlic to the pan, then the chicken stock, and whisk well, scrapping the bottom and sides to loosen any sticky bits. Stir in the rest of the soy sauce, the brown sugar and the chili paste. Once the mixture reaches a boil, whisk in the cornstarch liquid and cook to thicken for about a minute. Take the meatballs out of the oven, put them in a serving bowl, and pour the sauce over them, stirring gently to distribute.

You’ll see I’ve omitted the snow peas from Martha’s recipe. They’re an unnecessary and tropey distraction, since we’ve already established that we’re going for “asian-ish,” what with the Italian sausage. If you must, go ahead and throw some finely ringed scallions over the whole thing. Make sure that toothpicks and small plates are within reach of these, as they’re sticky and you don’t want guests getting creative about wiping their fingers.

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