February 4, 2011

Mario's Meatballs

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As you may have heard, we're on a search for the ultimate meatball. Why? Well... the better question obviously is "Why not?" Meatballs are delicious, deceptively simple, yet, when done correctly, truly divine.

Herbie ponders why one would consider cooking anything other than meatballs. Except maybe chicken. 
This meatball recipe came from Mario Batali's Android app, in which he talks you through the recipe and teaches you how to do it. We've done a number of other recipes from this app and they've been quite good. We'll tell you more about those here. In his video for this meatball he claims that "these meatballs will be more tender than your meatballs." While presumptuous, we were intrigued and hoped that his technique would yield the most fabulously delicious meatball we'd ever eaten. Read on to see how it went...

Making the Dish
What You'll Need
1 lb ground beef
1.5 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 fresh chopped parsley
2 cups tomato sauce

One caveat before we start is that Mario's recipe calls for pine nuts. We didn't have pine nuts and instead substituted walnuts. We don't believe this should affect the overall experience that this recipe aims to produce.

So first things first, Mario calls for 1 lb of ground beef. Just beef. That's it. This, truthfully, was surprising. For an Italian such as Mario we were quite puzzled to see Mario pushing a meatball recipe that didn't blend different types of meat. This is the norm for meatballs, as doing so gives it a depth and complexity of flavor and texture that's simply not possible using only one type of meat. Ever had a really dry, boring meatball at a restaurant? It was likely made using only beef.

Regardless, Mario is supposedly a genius, so we didn't tinker and moved forward. The trick, he claims, is to let your breadcrumbs soak in milk for a few minutes before blending into your meat. Ah ha! Perhaps this makes up for the lack in variety of meats. Milk soaked bread is not something that we'd ever heard of before, but like good recipe following, ultimate meatball questing cooks, we trudged onward.

Yes, we realize these are not fresh breadcrumbs. Sorry Mario. 

So you've got 1.5 cups of fresh breadcrumbs getting soaked by 1 cup of whole milk. Break open 2 eggs and beat them lightly, and then drop these into your beef. Then, take three cloves of garlic and grate it down, into the meat mixture. This way of preparing the garlic allows the garlic to diffuse better throughout the meatball (rather than just having chunks of garlic strewn throughout). See what we mean in the picture below. 

Using a grater to prepare the garlic gets it very thin and easy to diffuse throughout the final product. 

Finally, throw in half a cup of grated pecorino romano cheese, and 1/8 cup chopped walnuts (or pinenuts). Add in the milk/bread mixture, and blend this all together until it's very well integrated. Add a touch of chopped fresh parsley and blend that as well. 

Breaking the egg to be beaten into the bowl. 

Chopping up the walnuts to our desired granularity.

All of our seasoning prepared and ready to blend into the meat. 

 Over on the stove, get a pot of the most delicious tomato sauce you can find or make going in a nice rolling bubble. We made our own using our favorite tomato sauce recipe. Once it's ready to go, make your meatballs. Take a handful of meat and roll them into balls slightly larger than a golf ball. Add these directly to the sauce. That's right - it's essentially poaching the meatball. Oftentimes you'll see meatballs sauteed first. Not this time. (In fact, this meatball preparation is probably our favorite way to do it as well).

Adding the meatballs directly to the sauce. If you've never made your meatballs this way before, this is worth a try. 
Once you've used up all your meat, make sure all the meatballs are submerged in sauce, bring the sauce down to a simmer, cover, and let cook for about 30 - 45 minutes. This should be enough time to get them entirely cooked, but just to be sure take one out and slice it open. If it's still pink inside, let them cook longer, otherwise, they're ready to eat. 

Herbie is overjoyed that we have begun the meatball search. 

 The Result

Meatballs covered in delicious sauce with delicious cheese and olive oil on top. 
Plate the meatballs and cover with the sauce, some grated cheese, parsley, and a touch of olive oil. Serve them with some nice warm bread, and enjoy!

Warm delicious fresh bread for sopping up the sauce. 

Overall, we thought these were decent, but not the ultimate meatball. The walnuts were a new touch and gave the meatballs a nice earthy flavor. Soaking the milk in bread did not seem to do much for us, in our opinion - these meatballs were no more tender than the meatballs we've made previously or those made by Bryan's brother, neither of which used the soaked milk technique. In fact the soaked milk at times created clumps of somewhat soggy tasting bread where our blending hadn't done a good enough job. And of course, the fact that only one meat was used made these meatballs fairly one dimensional. While the walnuts did add a bit, it didn't quite do the trick for us. 

That said, if you're ever in the mood for meatballs and only have ground beef on hand, this is probably a good way to prepare it. The walnut will give a little extra flavor that the beef on its own cannot provide, and the poaching preparation certainly increases the deliciousness.

1 comment:

  1. I quite liked David Rocco's version of Polpette: http://www.davidrocco.com/recipes/mains/polpette_peppe.asp

    I tried this and found the meatballs to be light and really nice. I did a few changes, though. We used ordinary bread that we tore apart before soaking in milk. I think this makes a huge difference and makes the meatballs light. Also ommitted the raisins since the ones I've tried in restaurants don't have them. This recipe calls for the usual mix of meats, as you said.


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