If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen. And now I happily pass what I have learned along to you, gentle reader.
Last week I shared my late mother’s recipe for the best tomato sauce you will ever taste. Today, Mama Marie will please the palate with her recipe for Italian meatballs.
Mama Marie’s Italian Meatballs
Herewith is Mama’s recipe for the best Italian meatballs you will ever eat:
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound ground beef, 80% lean
¾ pound ground veal
¾ pound sweet Italian sausages
4 slices crusty Italian bread, 1” thick
¼ cup heavy cream
2 eggs, medium, lightly beaten
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp thyme
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
Generally, Italian meatballs are sautéed and then finished off in a bubbling pot of tomato sauce. If cooking them in Mama Marie’s Tomato Sauce, be sure the sauce has just finished cooking and the other meat and veggie ingredients have been removed. If a pot of sauce isn’t handy, you can always bake them. In that case, preheat oven to 3500 F.
Tear bread into pieces and whirl briefly in a blender or food processor to create light, fluffy crumbs. Reserve in a separate container. Remove sausage meat from casings into a large mixing bowl; discard casings.
In a small, preferably non-stick, skillet on medium heat, add 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and then add onions and garlic. Cook gently on low heat until the onions are translucent and then transfer to the mixing bowl. Add beef, veal, eggs, bread, parsley, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper and heavy cream. Using your hands, mix and mash the ingredients until they are thoroughly combined. Shape into rounds just a little larger than a golf ball and set aside on a cookie sheet.
In a large, preferably non-stick, skillet on medium-high heat, add ¼ cup extra light olive oil or canola oil. Sauté the meatballs in small batches until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. (Do not overcrowd the skillet and be gentle to avoid breaking them apart). Remove to a cookie sheet using a slotted spoon.
If cooking them in tomato sauce, gently slide batches of 10 to 15 meatballs into the sauce while it is simmering on a low flame. Cook each batch for 35 to 40 minutes (stir the sauce frequently to avoid burning on the bottom) and then transfer meatballs to a large bowl with a slotted spoon.
If baking the meatballs, cover with aluminum foil, place in the oven and bake for 1 hour at 350oF. The only negative to baking meatballs in the oven is that they will not absorb any of the delicious flavor from the tomato sauce.
Mama Marie’s Meatball Parmagiano Sub
Elsewhere they are called hoagies, grinders and Po’ Boys. Here in the NY/NJ metro area they are known as “subs” or “submarine sandwiches.” One of the most popular is the meatball parm sub, a staple of every Italian pizzeria in New Jersey. Unfortunately none of them is as good as my mother’s. For this – and pretty much any other type of sub you must use French bread, not Italian, as Italian bread has a very thick crust and, unless you are blessed with choppers like Jimmy Carter or the Osmond family, you’d have to go at it like a beaver on a Lignum tree.
1 loaf French bread (about 18” long)
12 to 14 freshly cooked meatballs with sauce
1 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼” slices
4 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
Cut the loaf into 2 halves and then slice each half lengthwise as you would to make a sandwich. Reserve top halves of bread. Press down on the insides of each lower half to create an indentation in the bread. Transfer the meatballs to each half of bread – add more meatballs if space permits. Sprinkle with chopped basil and then cover with slices of mozzarella. Place on a small cookie sheet or foil-covered broiler pan and broil until mozzarella just begins to brown. Remove at once and cover with top half of each loaf section. Enjoy with a glass of red wine and plenty of napkins.