Meatball moments

Kristin Landis Lowry posted on Facebook on 6/4 about making meatballs — which she spells as meat balls — for her household, with photos of (among other things) the meatballs in a roasting pan, the browned meatballs after their time in the oven, the meatballs cooking in a saucepan with marinara sauce (from a bottle: one of the Rao’s sauces). The last of these:


These meatballs were destined to go into sandwiches, in buns, but of course they could go on pasta or rice or some other starch, or serve as a meat dish on their own.

Reading Kristin’s description of all this made me hunger for really tasty meatballs in marinara sauce on pasta, but it was, alas, 5 in the morning when her posting came to me, and that’s a tough hour for meatball delivery, or even decent pasta delivery, and my survey of the pasta with meatballs available even for lunch delivery by Grubhub (6+ hours later in the day) did not rouse any enthusiasm for me. So I ended up getting some really fine mac ‘n cheese at 7 am (with lots of bacon bits, suggesting breakfast, in place of meatballs); these days, mac ‘n cheese is both fashionable and absolutely everyday, so it’s pretty much available around the clock.

(The immediacy of my desire for pasta with meatballs is long past, but I would welcome recommendations of any restaurant in my area that offers particularly good versions, in case the hunger should strike again and in hope that Grubhub services the place.)

Now, branching out in two directions: first, about meatball as slang, and more broadly on meatballs as culture objects; and then, on recipes for meatballs, taking off on one from the allrecipes site.

The slang uses and more. Very briefly, from GDoS on meatball:

noun meatball: 1 (US) a stupid person; thus a potential victim [AZ: cf. meathead] [1st cite 1939] 2 (US) an Italian ([from] the stereotyped partiality of Italians for the dish) [1st cite 1950]

adj. meatball: 1 (US Underworld) Used of a criminal charge for a petty crime, e.g. meatball beef, meatball rap ([from] the smallness or commonness, thus unimportance, of the food) [1st cite 1944] 2 (US) stupid [1st cite 1965]

Then on to meatballs as more general culture objects — a surprisingly rich territory, surveyed in my 8/19/16 posting “Meatballs!”, which starts with a plate of Italian meatballs —


— and continues with the the slang, the film Meatballs, and the expression meatball surgery as used in the tv series M*A*S*H.

Making meatballs. From the allrecipes site, “The Best Meatballs”, a recipe posted by Geanine on 11/22/22:

Meatball Ingredients: Here’s what you’ll need to make the best meatballs of your life [AZ: throughout all of this, it’s helpful to think of meatballs as meatloaf parceled into small spheres]:

— Ground meat: This meatball recipe uses a blend of ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork. You can switch it up depending on what you have on hand. [AZ: add ground lamb to the possibilities — the original kofta were of ground lamb — and look for high-quality meat]

— Seasonings and herbs: These meatballs are flavored with fresh garlic, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, and ground black pepper. [AZ: these three are basic, but you should consider other possibilities (not all at once): oregano, sage, dill, coriander, tarragon, thyme, cumin, ginger, various forms of red pepper]

— Eggs: Eggs keep the meatballs from drying out and they act as a binding agent, which means they help hold the ingredients together.

— Cheese: You’ll need a cup of freshly grated Romano cheese. If you can, avoid the pre-grated stuff for this recipe. [AZ: makes the meat mixture richer; many meatball recipes don’t use it]

— Italian bread [for the breadcrumbs]: Slightly stale Italian bread is preferable. If your bread feels soft, try letting it sit out overnight.

— Water: Slowly add water to the mixture before you roll the meatballs. It’ll keep the meatballs nice and moist. Some reviewers prefer to use milk.

— Olive oil: Fry the meatballs in olive oil [AZ: or cook them in the oven, the way Kristin Landis Lowry does].

How to Make Meatballs Step-By-Step: Here’s a very brief overview of what you can expect when you make this top-rated meatball recipe:

–1 Combine the first eight ingredients [the three meats, three seasonings, eggs, and cheese] in a bowl.

–2 Add the bread crumbs and slowly add the water.

–3  Shape the mixture into meatballs [with your hands].

–4 Fry the meatballs until they’re all brown and crisp [about 20 minutes].

What Goes With Meatballs? The most obvious way to serve meatballs? With spaghetti, of course! Try our Best Marinara Sauce Yet. These meatballs also work great as an appetizer, in a sandwich, or served over mashed potatoes, rice, or egg noodles.

Notes. This is a recipe for (red) meat meatballs (akin to meatloaf), but of course similar balls, cooked in similar ways, can be made from various sorts of poultry flesh, from seafood of a variety of types (fish balls!), and from entirely vegetarian materials, including tofu.

Also, the allrecipes approach is decidedly purist, advocating fresh rather than prepared ingredients throughout (notably, the garlic, the grated cheese, the breadcrumbs, and any marinara sauce), though Geanine doesn’t go so far as to insist that you grind your own meat (though in times long gone, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky and I very occasionally did that; it’s really tedious work).

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