I love meatballs, but I hardly ever make them. Left to my own uninspired devices I’m more likely to quickly brown beef, add a jar of marinara sauce and call it dinner. It’s my Midwestern version of “Pasta Bolognese” – my “again!?” dinner that Geoff is continually forced to veto. So, I decided to put in some extra effort and make meatballs.
Mario Batali is my all-time favorite celebrity chef. I love his restaurants, his cookbooks and, when they were still on-air, I loved his cooking show, Molto Mario. I remember him saying once that American meatballs were ruined by an over-abundance of wealth. In Italy, meatballs were invented to make meat stretch further when times were tough – cheaper ingredients like eggs and bread were added as fillers.
I was a little nervous about this recipe, because it really does include a lot of bread and eggs. But I was amazed when, just like Mario promised, the meatballs ended up being magically light, moist and delectable morsels. And, to add some complexity, toasted pine nuts were a crunchy and flavorful touch.
Mario warns that Italians would not normally serve meatballs with pasta, so I served these with mac and cheese and a salad. I figured I was okay, since most Italians probably wouldn’t count my Souffléd Mac and Cheese as a “pasta” dish. But next time I think I’ll ignore Mario’s instructions about this one detail, and have the spaghetti and marinara sauce ready.
3 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 pounds ground beef
3 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup pecorino, grated (I used parmesan cheese)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (be careful not to let them burn!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cover bread crumbs with water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain the bread cubes and squeeze out extra moisture.
In a large bowl, combine the bread, beef, eggs, garlic, cheese, parsley, pine nuts, salt, and pepper and mix by hand just until mixed (do not over-work the meat!). With wet hands, form the mixture into 12 to 15 large meatballs, each of a size somewhere between a tennis ball and a golf ball. (I went ahead and made mine a bit smaller, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting completely cooked through in a skillet.)
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, and cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Serve warm or at room temperature.