Remember the scene in Big Night where the camera is cruising through the competitor's "Italian" restaurant? The camera gets a shot of a server carrying a mound of spaghetti and meatballs and in that moment, the audience knows that the restaurant is not truly Italian because it has sold out to the American clientèle. I love that sequence (and I really love that movie!)
While meatballs may not be the most authentic of Italian dishes, it is popular for a reason -- it can be really delicious and very satisfying. (And I hope my Italian host mother forgives me for saying so!)
Here's a slightly modified version of the recipe offered in Cook's Illustrated Best Recipe cookbook. The secret to these tasty tads of meat is in the sauce. Actually, in the milk. If we just use dry bread crumbs, the way my Grandma did it, the crumbs soak up any available moisture and leave the meatball dry and crumby. This trick of soaking the bread in milk makes good meatballs better yet.
And a second trick: if you cut out the egg white and just use the yolk, the meatball mixture isn’t so sticky and hard to handle. The yolk itself is enough to bind the ingredients.
about 2-3 servings
½ pound ground meat, beef and/or pork
1 slice of bread, torn into small pieces
¼ C buttermilk, or just plain milk
1/8-1/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
A couple Tbs of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
1 garlic clove, minced fine or pressed
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying
First, combine the bread and milk in a medium bowl. Let sit while you get the other ingredients together, mashing occasionally with a fork. After 5-10 minutes, add the ground meat, cheese, parsley, egg yolk, garlic, salt and pepper to the soaked bready paste. Mix well and shape into balls. Use a light touch. If you compact the meatballs, they become dense and hard.
Heat oil a pan. Cover the bottom of the pan, not just a drizzle. Add meatballs in a single layer once the oil is ready. Fry, turning several times, until browned on all sides. Try to keep the oil from smoking, by turning it down a bit. Once browned, set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.
Pour out the oil and add whatever tomato sauce you’re going to use. Once heated, add meatballs and simmer, turning occasionally until heated through (about 5 minutes, maybe more depending on the size of your meatballs).
When done, serve over spaghetti with a bit more fresh parmesan for the classic faux-Italian dish.