In my arcane filing system, I have some recipes that manage to wiggle their way out of their plastic slipcovers and into my bag, destined for a week or two or three of being schlepped around town, between my apartment and my office and the grocery store, offering up their services loyally, yet never really being exactly what I feel like eating that day, though I possibly could be interested in them the next. Sometimes I even go so far as to write down a shopping list only to have it be pushed aside at the store in favor of a different dinner. Earlier this week, though, I'd had enough with my dilly-dallying. I buckled down for meatballs.
Running an errand in SoHo meant I'd be buying my groceries at Dean & Deluca, which in turn meant that when I asked for ground pork at the meat counter, I saw a hand reach into the display and pluck out a plump, boneless pork chop to grind up right then and there. Something about freshly ground meat is just so much more appealing than the shrink-wrapped, pre-ground stuff that offers ominously little information as to its provenance. The added benefit of being at Dean & Deluca (besides the mind-boggling array of sparkling bottles and jars filled with all sorts of goodies and treats, and despite the jacked-up prices) is their cookbook department, located conveniently in the back of the store. My recipe by Joyce Goldstein came from an LA Times piece on international meatballs, but at the store I was able to look up her original recipe in the book it was published in.
There was nothing specifically useful about this, but it somehow gave the recipe more context. The book explained that this particular preparation leaves the meatballs soft instead of "crunchy" because you simmer the raw balls directly in the sauce instead of panfrying them first (lightening them, too, something I'm always happy about). What made me laugh was the LA Times' note that the meatballs should be served with mashed potatoes, unless it was a meal for children, in which case they should be served with spaghetti. Who knew that spaghetti and meatballs are considered kid's food, yet mashed potatoes aren't? That's probably a discussion for another time.
I never ate meatballs with spaghetti as a kid (we just ate them plain), so I don't necessarily associate them with comfort food, but I liked the idea of a plate of lightly sauced noodles dotted with small polpettine (or, as the Sardinians apparently call them, bombas). Nigella Lawson had a recipe for tiny meatballs in the NY Times a while ago that looked similarly good, but I can't seem to find it - it must have disappeared somewhere among my 4,000 other clippings (sigh).
How were they? Good (I particularly liked the size and lightness of the meatballs), but one thing I would absolutely recommend is that you not eat them right away. They improved hugely with an overnight sit in the fridge, becoming more deeply flavored and savory. The next night, I made a simple tomato sauce (just canned tomatoes, a garlic clove, salt, and a drizzle of basil oil cooked together until reduced slightly) to warm the meatballs up in. We grated generous amounts of Parmigiano on top, and had ourselves a delicious little Sardinian-American dinner.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs or 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
6 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 3/4 cups canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup water
1. In a bowl, combine the pork, bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper and mixed together until smooth. Form the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter.
2. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and water, mix well, and then add the meatballs.
3. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes or spaghetti.