A few weeks ago I caught up with a friend from college that occasionally reads the blog. During the course of a relatively serious discussion about MBA internship opportunities, he said something along the line of, “more importantly, do you have a good meatball recipe?” Gotta say, it made me feel pretty inadequate. Not only did I not have a good meatball recipe, I couldn’t even say that I’ve ever liked a traditional meatball I’d made. Sure, I’ve cooked lots of enjoyable turkey meatballs during ill-fated attempts at diets, but I didn’t have a go-to normal recipe. I dodged the question and moved along.
With a lot of heavy snowfall recently, I didn’t have to wait too long to take a shot at honing my meatball craft. My goal was to replicate the absurdly good meatballs from Vila Di Roma in Philadelphia, but of course I didn’t follow the one known aspect of that recipe: 100% 80/20 ground beef. Instead I started with a pound of pork and a pound of veal.
In my search for a Vila Di Roma copycat recipe I came across one that used veal and pork and went by the name “the best meatballs recipe”. Since I am an idiot and believe everything I read on the internet, I decided to work off this recipe and make some changes here and there. The title may have been a touch overzealous.
I despise following recipes for good reason: I think I know better than their instructions and some of the time, I am correct. When I am wrong, I forget about it, but when I am right I am pissed that I blindly followed a recipe when it seemed like I was adding to much or too little of something. With that in mind, here’s the 2 eggs, parsley, seasoning, and fresh grated cheese the recipe recommended.
Using my hands, I went through the grotesque (to watch) process of mixing ground meat with other ingredients. No ground meat is safe from how unappetizing I can make this process look. Adding salt and pepper to hamburger patties becomes some sort of bizarre, jiggling dance when I’m in charge. Whatever, it’s effective and you’ll never get a poorly distributed ingredient in my house.
After this was fully mixed, I added in a few slices of cubed, slightly stale bread and a half cup of warm water. I am as skeptical now as I was then, but I was surprised by how many meatball recipes called for this.
With the addition of water and bread, I was way off the Vila Di Roma script at this point, so I decided to check back in on a few articles about their meatballs. That’s where I got a hot tip on coating your hands with olive oil before rolling your meatballs.
As usual, I started with a few really small meatballs. Then, once I made a few bigger ones and liked how they looked I went back and added some more meat to the first few. Once I had 10 or 12 done, I didn’t like how big they all looked and went back through pullign a little meat off of each and re-rolling. Cooking always seems to bring out the undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive mess inside of me. Regardless, after a few minutes I had this tray of 24.
Meatballs are pretty cool to look at in this state. Don’t believe me? Here comes the arty natural light shot by the window!
The meatballs went into a 400F oven and I started working on a simple marinara sauce to compliment them. I mean really simple. A couple cans of whole peeled tomatoes chopped up well and dumped on top of a few cloves of minced garlic sauteeing in olive oil. I let that cook for 15 or so, then added some white wine, basil, salt and black pepper.
This simmered together with some regular stirring for about 30 more minutes, at which point the meatballs were about ready to join the party.
This was the exact moment that I finally accepted the best way to cook meatballs is something I’m just not willing to do in my house: deep frying. Fry them up quick to lock in all the fat and cheese stuff that cooked out of these. The oven wasn’t hot enough to harden the outside quickly. Oh and I also used way too much cheese.
Quick sidebar: as a kid we used to eat something called “booger chicken” in the Ryan household. It was bone in chicken thighs and drumsticks baked in an oven with a coating of garlic powder and salt plus a pat of butter on each piece of chicken. Possibly margarine actually. Obviously it tasted delicious, but the real root of my love of booger chicken was the “crispies”. I would sit on the floor by the open oven and use a grapefruit spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan, eating the crispy pieces of seasoned chicken fat and burned butter left behind. Before writing that I didn’t realize how bad it would look in print. It was delicious, awful for me, and led to my constant battle with what tastes really good vs. what is healthy.
Anyhoo, that burnt and browned crap between the meatballs? I would eat that with a grapefruit spoon three times a day and six on Sunday. It was that delicious; just cheese, animal fat, salt, self loathing and happiness. If those things go together. I had to throw it away before I ate too much of it.
Back to the simmering sauce.
Once the meatballs were pried out of their cheesy cement, they looked a little closer to the meatballs I had hoped to make, so I added them to the sauce to simmer for another 30 minutes.
I could have left these simmering all day or for multiple days, but I was hungry when the thirty minutes were up and dove in. How bout a dusting of cheese and one more natural lighting shot before the requisite recap?
The meatballs and sauce were delicious, even if they weren’t quite what I was hoping for. The Vila Di Roma variety are almost crunchy on the outside and hold together well but have a wonderful tender and uniform consistency inside. The flavor is mostly just beef with hints of traditional Italian seasonings, all wrapped up in their salty and delicious sauce. Mine weren’t like that.
I couldn’t have told you that the meatballs I made had pork and veal in them, but you knew it wasn’t beef. The consistency was slightly rubbery due to the amount of cheese and egg involved, but pretty uniform and not chewy at all. The flavor was great, if slightly underwhelming because nothing really stood out. I’m making these meatballs sound awful but we happily ate them for 24 hours with pasta, sub rolls, and on their own. They were very tasty, just not what I was hoping for.
Next time aroung I’m going all beef and stinking up the house with some deep frying. I will get these meatballs right, I live too far from Philly not to.