Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The search for a perfect meatball

I have to admit that the mere thought of eating spaghetti without meatballs is quite depressing to me. Sure, you can turn hamburger into a meat sauce, but meatballs are just so.... fun!


They make the dish entertaining AND tasty, and that's hard to beat. The problem though, is that I have yet to find the perfect meatball. But that hasn't stopped me from trying.


So when DaNece brought home a package of italian sausage along with some hamburger my thoughts went right to meatballs.


Pasta and Meatballs


- 1/2 lb sweet italian sausage

- 1/2 lb hamburger (I think we used 90/10)

- 1 box pasta (medium shells in our case)

- 1 jar pasta sauce (to be improved upon)

- Fresh parmesan and romano cheese cheeses, grated (about a fistful of each)

- 1 egg

- a fistful of bread crumbs (or Ritz crackers all crushed up if you don't stock bread crumbs)

- Worcestershire sauce (just a splash to boost flavor)

- 1 Left-over kohlrabi (optional, but I needed to get used)

- 1/2 onion (again optional, but it was on its way out as well)

- 1 tablespoon of butter

- Fresh garlic (3 or 4 cloves), minced

- Fennel seed (large pinch), rosemary (medium pinch), thyme (medium pinch), oregano (medium pinch), salt (small pinch), black peppercorns (small pinch), paprika (small pinch), sugar (3 or 4 teaspoons), parsley (garnish)


Cooking the rest of it:

- First get your water boiling for your pasta


- Using your mortar and pestle (you have one right? If not, consider getting one. They are cheap, and are the best way to grind spices) grind together the fennel seed, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and black peppercorns.


- Add in salt, and paprika to the rest of the spices.


- Throw your jar of pasta sauce into a pot


- Add about half of the cheese (because who doesn't like cheese in their pasta sauce?) to the sauce, reserving the other half for sprinkling on top of the pasta.


- Add 3/4 of the sugar to the sauce, and 1/2 of the spice mixture


- on low or medium heat (to prevent the butter from burning) cook the onions, kohlrabi, and about 1/2 of the garlic with a tablespoon of butter until soft.


- Cook your pasta according to directions (and toss with a bit of olive oil after cooked to prevent it from going all sticky in the bowl).


Meatball Magic:

When it comes to cooking meatballs, everybody will tell you the best way. You can bake them, broil them, grill them, pan-fry them, or even deep-fry them.


I used to always pan-fry my meatballs, because it's easy and you can baby-sit them so that they don't get overcooked. This generally turns out decent meatballs, but generally doesn't give you the nice crisp exterior that I look for in my meatballs.


I've also tried broiling them. This created much better dispersion of crispness, but left them slightly overcooked and dry, plus required flipping. Me + Remembering to flip something under the broiler = bad news. Inevitably they burn because I forget about them.


So this time I tried baking them. And it was a vast improvement. Turn your oven to 400F, line a cookie tray with foil and then get crackin'!


To make the balls - take a large bowl and mix the following: Italian sausage, hamburger, 1/2 spice mixture, 1/4 of the sugar, 1 egg, Worcestershire sauce, and the other half of the garlic.


Once these are mixed, add in your bread crumbs until you get a nice consistency. You want it to be soft enough to easily form meatballs, but it shouldn't stick to your hands when handling it.


Now take a gob of meat and form it into a ball. Mine were just a little smaller than golf balls, and this mixture netted me about 25 meatballs. Line them up on the cookie sheet as you form them, being careful not to overcrowd them (they need room for that hot convection action to work).


Now stick them puppies in the oven and cook until done to your liking. Mine were in there for 15-20 minutes. Once they started getting nice color on them I would pull one out, cut it in half, and make sure that it was done (just a touch of pink in the middle). I still managed to miss it by a bit though, so they were a little dry.


Throw them on top of the pasta, sauce, and kohlrabi/onion. Garnish with parsley.


So were they the perfect meatball?

No, but they were way better than any others I've made before (and good enough that I am still eating them a week later). There was a bit too much italian sausage for DaNece's taste, but it was good to mine.


Next time I will make them slightly larger (the same size, or slightly larger than golf balls) so that the center will be a little more moist and I won't feel the need to put 6 or 7 on my plate. The fennel seed was spot on though, and added a great smell and taste to them.


Overall; a great meal!


melissa said...

Those do look delicious. I've been baking my meatballs for quite some time now, whether for pasta or subs. I make em really big, about 12 for a pound of meat. I don't know why I think they're better baked, but I'm glad you enjoyed them that way too.

TomboCheck said...

Even DaNece commented on how good they turned out. She just wanted less sausage and more hamburger.