From Scratch: Fork-tender, homemade meatballs outshine frozen every time
Meatballs. Every country seems to have some version of this ground meat dish.
There are albondigas from the Spanish-speaking world, kofta from the Middle East and köttbullar from Sweden. Their appeal lies in the simplicity of preparation. Take some ground meat, add a few other ingredients for flavor and cook.
Meatballs have a long tradition in this country, too. Somewhere along the line, though, Americans stopped making meatballs at home and opted for the soy laden "golf balls" in the frozen food section. Neither in taste nor in texture do these even begin to resemble the succulent, tender meatballs I remember from my mother's table.
I think the appeal of the frozen meatballs lies in price and convenience, but in this case it is a poor trade-off. The lower-priced ones are loaded with fillers . Even the 100 percent beef meatballs are wanting. Because they are baked rather than browned and slowly simmered, they rely on caramel coloring to give them an attractive appearance.
Authentic Italian meatballs are a made from a combination of beef, pork and veal. The fat in the pork ensures that the meatballs will be tender even after a long cooking. Most supermarkets have this ground meat mixture pre-packaged.
To hold the meat together, you need a binder. The binder adds moisture and prevents the meat proteins from becoming tough. A trick to making fork-tender meatballs is to mix all of the ingredients using your hands until just combined. Overworking the meat will compact it, leading to a meatball that will fly off your plate when you attempt to cut it.
If the thought of squishing around raw meat with your hands is too overwhelming, mix gently with a spoon or rubber spatula instead.
When you are ready to begin, prepare the following ingredients.
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 fresh basil leaves chopped or 1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/4 cup finely minced Italian parsley
1 pound ground meat mixture (beef, pork, veal)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ cup unflavored bread crumbs
In a medium-size saucepan, heat the crushed tomatoes, basil and oregano over low heat, covered.
In a large bowl, beat the egg and add the salt, pepper, cheese and parsley. Add the meat, garlic, onions and bread crumbs to the egg mixture. Using your fingers, mix until well combined.
Form into balls. Coat a cast iron frying pan lightly with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Add the meatballs and cook until browned, turning while cooking.
Remove the meatballs and add them to the tomato sauce. Cook covered over low heat for 40 minutes.
Note: No matter what you do, your meatballs won't be perfectly round. Just chill, and go with the funky shape.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.