Sunday, January 13, 2013

Meatballs Revisited and Deconstructed....Part 1.

Lets set the scene:  Restaurant, anywhere, any type, but it does offer Italian food on the menu.  You see the listing and your mouth begins to water: spaghetti, tortellini, fettuccine alfredo, lasagna, manicotti, meatballs, sausage, chicken parmigiana, garlic bread...oh yeah, you know what you want.  So you order a pasta dish which comes with 3 to 4 meatballs, and what do you get....rubberized golf balls.  Talk about your heart sinking in sheer disappointment.

You're asking now, "how do you know they're phony meatballs?"  First clue, the size is similar to that of a golf ball and they are all perfectly round; no lumps or bumps, no imperfections to see.  Second clue, when you try to slice them open with your simple fork, they resist; no meatball should be so firm as to require a knife.  Third clue, it is perfectly firm inside also and there is an oily sheen that looks unnatural to meat.  Fourth clue, it bounces; I've never tried this out myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if it actually worked.

I'm going to address each clue to help you create your own homemade meatballs, and to be more aware of what you get at a restaurant, especially when the wait staff says, "Oh yes, they're house made", but you cannot inspect the kitchen larder itself.

Clue #1: Real meatballs are typically on the large size; my own usually measure a three inch diameter. The meatballs are shaped by hand, so no two look exactly alike, nor are they perfectly round. When I serve them on top of a serving of pasta, they're the star, they take center stage. No one has to look through the pasta to find them.

Clue #2 and Clue #3: You can use a fork to slice them open, the meat has texture, but doesn't resist; a small amount of pressure can break them apart for distribution throughout the pasta. A single forkful, however, stays together and delightfully crumbles apart in the mouth when chewing. There is no unnatural sheen, just natural juices plus you can see the onion, garlic and herbs.

Clue #4: As much as I have been tempted to demonstrate this in a restaurant, no, I didn't embarrass myself. However, at home, I have dropped many a homemade meatball; the little buggers really can move on a saucy spoon. No bouncing, just a splat and a lot of restless movement as the dogs try to get a taste of the poor little meatball on the floor. Kind of remind's me of a childhood song concerning a meatball dropped from a dish of spaghetti which rolls out a door.  In my home, with my dogs, no such chance of escape for a lowly meatball.

There you have it, the knowledge to know phony meatballs from the real deal.  Next time you order them at a restaurant, you're told they're house made, you'll be able to figure it out and, most especially, call the owner to the carpet if you've been lied to.

This is only Part One of "Meatballs Revisited and Deconstructed"; look for Part Two when I give a recipe and preparation directions.

Mary Cokenour

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