Having grown up in a mutt of a household -- my father is of French, Scottish, English and Native descent, while my mother's background is mostly English -- my main exposure to meatballs came from holiday get-togethers and summer barbecues. These meatballs were almost exclusively of the frozen variety, usually covered in some too-sweet commercial sauce and terribly dry. Yet somehow these magical things seem to incite rave reviews in most and invariably make me cringe in disgust. Yes, I'm a veritable food snob, and if it comes down to frozen food vs. starvation, I can tell you my hunger will put up an enviable fight. Life is too short to eat bad food, non?
It wasn't until Molly Wizenberg's article on meatballs appeared in Bon Appetit that my mind opened to the
possibility that meatballs might be good. Partly this is because I happened to like the magazine back then, and more importantly, Molly's recommendations are solid. I'm a worshipper at the tower of Daily Granola. I've made these chocolate puddle cookies twice to remarkable results (do seek out the cacao nibs.) I've also made adapted versions of these chocolate chip cookies and these buckwheat cookies, both delicious, as well as this chickpea salad, her (and Marcella Hazan's) recipe for tomato sauce, this red lentil soup with lemon, and Brandon's chana masala. You can trust this girl with your palate. She is also responsible for turning me on to Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe fame and the most perfect roast chicken you've had in your life. IN YOUR LIFE, people. That is a big deal for roast chickens everywhere.
But still, no meatballs. When I first moved to Toronto I subsisted off eggs, beans and rice and whatever inexpensive produce was available, mainly because I couldn't afford much else. And I used to eat a lot of lentils before embarking on this project of sorts where I told myself I'd make an effort to eat more exclusively Ontario fare (though this, I have to say, is ridiculously challenging if you are not a particularly big meat eater. I miss lentils and brown rice.)
Anyway, in essence, meatballs should be good. Ground meat, a binder, some seasoning, a great sauce -- I can be sold on these few things alone. But for some reason very good meatballs rarely materialize around here, and because I'm a bit of an uncomfortable omnivore, meatballs aren't really one to make the cut. There's also that whole time consuming business that nine-to-fivers tend to avoid (like the plague -- another cliche) and that whole dirtying many pots thing solo cooks and eaters everywhere tend to avoid (again, like the plague.) I actually adhere to a two-pot rule when cooking, so I went out on a bit of a limb here. Yes, I'm a rule breaker. Are you happy? I'm happy. Because I have a pot of these. And so should you. Especially on a cold and dreary day like today, where I was forced to treat myself to a giant gluten-free Prairie Girl cupcake for having to walk forty minutes in the pouring rain to restore balance. Or something like that.
My very good friend Sam made these allegedly incredible meatballs a while back. They are not Molly's, they are Mario's, and while I'm sure Molly's are very good, perhaps even exceptional, these are, too. I think Sam has urged me to make this recipe just about every time I've seen her, and although we don't see each other quite as often as we'd like, trust me when I say it's been many a time.
I divided the work up over the course of two evenings, since these lovelies take three (!!!) hours from start to finish. I made the sauce and made the meatballs the night before so all I had to do was brown the meat and bake them when I got in.
And honestly? Make these meatballs. They are incredible -- everything a meatball should've been a long time ago. And worth the wait.
Adapted from Mario Batali
Serves 6-8, depending on appetite
1lb lean ground beef
1lb hot Italian sausage, removed from casings
8-10 slices day old bread, diced into 1-inch cubes (I used O'Doughs gluten-free flax)
1/4 lb proscuitto, chopped finely
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup + 1/4 cup grated Pecorino
1 bunch Italian parsley, minced
1/2 bunch mint, minced
Several gratings of nutmeg, about 1/4 tsp
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Tomato sauce (I used Mario's recipe)
1/2 cup dry white wine
Vegetable oil, for frying (I use grapeseed)
Combine the first 10 ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to combine. Add 4 tbsp olive oil to the mixture and form into golf-size balls. Layer them on a lined sheet tray and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight to help them retain their shape.
Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan or similar to medium-high. Add meatballs, taking heed not to overcrowd, and brown them. As they brown, add to a Dutch oven or similar cooking vessel one by one. Top with tomato sauce, wine and extra parsley or cheese, as desired, and bake for about an hour until meat is fully cooked. Serve immediately.