Cloudy with a Chance of Polpette
It took me about two decades of my life to come to the very important realization that spaghetti and meatballs was not, in fact, Italian. Yes, there is an American-kid-alter ego within me that grew up eating canned spaghetti-o's and wanting pop tarts for breakfast. In fact, the first "American" dish I remember eating was spaghetti and meatballs, in all it's blasphemously over-boiled boxed noodles drenched in a bland and sweet tomato sauce with bread-y meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs...to separate the two was very odd to me.
Listen, Italians don't eat the two together.
I was redeemed from my ignorance at the tender age of 20 while I was taken as an apprentice to an Italian chef who had once run a swanky little restaurant in Milan until he made the decision to immigrate to the States some years ago. There was a small hiring sign at his newly opened and family-owned restaurant in my college town for a cook and dishwasher. I was ready for anything and made a beeline into the restaurant. I just wanted someone to teach me how to function in a kitchen. After all, I was dreaming to be the next David Chang or something.
"PLEASE. I know I have no experience but I will wash dishes or whatever, just let me cook for you. I want to learn," I pleaded.
He rubbed his chin and tilted his head. He was a combination of apprehensive and amused by my bright-eyed enthusiasm. Silence for 5 seconds. Then he unfolded his arms and extended his arm out to me for a handshake.
"Sì, ok young lady. I givuh you one month dishwasher. Then, I teach you!" He laughed, shaking his head.
Anyway, at the end of it all I really took away a lot about Italian cuisine. What I love most about most Italian dishes is that the number of ingredients do not matter as much as the quality of them. The most amazing pasta dish I've ever eaten maybe had 3 ingredients at most, which was freshly made gnocchi with a touch of high quality olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. Italians really love accentuating the flavor of the main ingredient in the dish. Pasta is meant to be enjoyed in all its craftsmanship, texture and flavor, not hidden in a drowning pool of sauce.
Likewise with polpette, which just means meatball in Italian, are enjoyed by themselves without the pasta. I made these alongside a little bit of spaghetti aglio e olio (oil and garlic) for dinner. The polpette are a favorite with my kids. This is just a simple and delicious meatball recipe that is so tasty to serve as a snack or as a side. It can also be a main dish too, served with a little bit of good bread to sponge up the sauce. Just do yourself a favor and save the spaghetti and meatball combo for Olive Garden.
1 lbs of ground beef (veal, pork or a combination of ground meats is fine too)
2 cups of cubed stale white bread (loosely packed), about two slices
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of milk
4 sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves removed from woody stems and finely chopped
1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
15 oz (about 2 cups) pomodoro or regular tomato sauce
3 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1/3 cup water
black pepper to taste
pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
Soak white bread cubes in milk and set aside until all the milk has been absorbed by the bread.
Combine ground meat, parsley, cheese, egg, bread/milk mixture, breads crumbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Mix all ingredients well with hands and beginning forming into meatballs. The size should be just a bit smaller than a golf ball. Set aside a small bowl of water to dip your hands in during this process so the meat will not stick to your hands.
Heat a large skillet or pan over medium heat. Drizzle in a generous amount of olive oil into heated pan and add in garlic. Stir garlic for a few seconds or until you smell the aroma. Gently place in meatballs into pan and beginning browning them, turning them often with a small spoon to evenly brown them.
Once the meatballs have been browned on all sides, reduce heat to low and add in in tomato sauce, water and a pinch of salt to your taste. Cover and let simmer for about 40 minutes.
Serve hot with more grated cheese and crusty bread, if you wish.