The Meatball Debate

Two Meatballs in the Italian Kitchen by Pino Luongo and Mark Straussman is a cookbook written by two Italian restaurant owners in New York. Pino is a purist from Tuscany, Mark is a populist from Queens. And the two men don't see eye to eye on meatballs.

For Mark's American customers, meatballs are the crowning glory on a mound of spaghetti. The Italian Pino insists that the big meatball is out of proportion to the skinny spaghetti and that we Americans ought to learn to eat the pasta first and the meatballs as a second course. Meatballs all by themselves, it turns out, can be an authentic Italian entrée. The discussion reminds me of the authentic Mexican versus Tex-Mex debate.

The meatball recipes in this book were a revelation. I have made a lot of meatballs in my life, but I usually just throw together some ground beef with minced onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, eggs, and chopped parsley and fry them or bake them in the oven. Then I drop them in a pot of red sauce.

Both of these chefs use ground chuck mixed with Italian sausage removed from the casings. Mark adds ground pork to the other two meats. Pino adds lemon zest. And both use cubes of white bread soaked in milk in addition to the breadcrumbs. There are also some simpler recipes for veal meatballs and turkey meatballs in the book.

These recipes inspired me to experiment with meatballs. I have a whole lot of venison sausage out in the freezer, so I have started mixing it in with the ground beef when I make meatballs--tastes great. I also tried the bread cubes soaked in milk, but they make the meatballs too squishy if you ask me. Parmesan is a nice addition, I don't know about the lemon zest. But suddenly I realize, I am a babe in the meatball woods, as it were.

Got any meatball recipes you want to share?

-Robb Walsh

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