Monday, June 26, 2006

Running Food: Italian-style Meatballs

Let me clarify something; this is not the healthiest dish, but it is definitely comfort food! There are few things that smell better than a pot of red sauce with some sort of meat simmering in it. Every so often, I make spaghetti and meatballs, and why not? It tastes great, everyone loves it, there is a lot of protein and carbs for us runners, and it is quite possibly even better the next day, so the leftovers are awesome.

I have never really had a standard recipe for meatballs, as there is an awful lot of leeway here. If you like more or less of something, by all means, add or subtract freely. But, I tried to keep track of what I did yesterday so I could share!

A few notes:

I like adding sun-dried tomatoes to the meat mixture. You can just as easily do without them, but I think they add a lot of flavor. Be sure to use the sun-dried tomatoes that you buy in a bag, as opposed to the kind packed in oil (too greasy for this kind of recipe, I think).

Regarding the bread crumbs, it is hard to give an exact amount, because all batches of meatballs are different. A half a cup is a good starting point, but you might need a little more. You are looking for everything to bind together nicely without being too wet. Be sure not to skimp on the bread crumbs, though. Chef Mario Batali from the Food Network said on his show, "Molto Mario," that the bread is the key to keeping the meatballs soft and moist!

Yesterday I made a homemade red sauce with crushed tomatoes, garlic, onion, red wine, basil, and various dried Italian herbs. But nowadays there are some downright fantastic store-bought sauces out there, so don't be afraid to use those as a convenience (believe me, I keep several jars in my pantry!).

I do like to fry my meatballs before simmering in the sauce, however. I know, some recipes simply have you drop the uncooked meatballs right into the sauce. But I think frying them brings so much more flavor to the party, because you get all of those wonderful bits of caramelized goodness that contribute to the complexity of dish.

Good grief, I've talked long enough! Here is what I made yesterday, with excellent results:

Jean's Italian-style Meatballs
makes 18-24 meatballs

-1 lb. ground beef
-1 lb. ground Italian sausage
-1 T. fresh rosemary, minced
-1 T. fresh thyme, minced
-2 T. fresh Italian parsley, minced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-10 sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated in warm water and chopped
-2 whole eggs
-1/2 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
-Salt and pepper
-1/2 to 3/4 cup of fine bread crumbs (the amount may vary)

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the bread crumbs. Stir together until things are well distributed. Add the bread crumbs to the mixture a little at a time. Keep mixing together until the ingredients are well incorporated, everything binds together, and the mixture is not too wet (keeping in mind you might need additional bread crumbs to bring it all together). Using your hands, roll out individual meatballs. Make them whatever size you like (I generally make them slightly larger than a golf ball). Fry the meatballs in a large skillet until browned on all sides. Then transfer them to a pot of your favorite red sauce and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally, taking care not to break them up. Serve over your favorite pasta and open a bottle of red wine.


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