Monday, October 22, 2012

UnRecipe: Meatball Ballad - Meatballad?

There's always food trends and crazes afoot, and I would argue there's a thin strand of logic that connects several of them. I'm somewhat convinced, like some Biblical genealogy, through the massive popularity of St. Cupcake of the Holy Sugar-Sprinkled Spirit, which begat Cake Pops, which through a second cousin once-removed begat the Meatball Craze. I'm pretty sure somewhere between Cupcake and Cake Pop, a litter of Old Fashioned Doughnuts showed up. Amen. I think when the pendulum swings towards the Bizarro World of packing Cake Spam into a sphere, covering it with an inch of frosting and jamming a stick through its bottom, the trend swings back towards more sensible familiarity and we embrace spherical food that's more meatball than goofball.

On top of spa-ghe-tti....all covered with cheeeeese.... I managed to not lose my meatball - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Food trends are as cyclical as the fascination with round balls o' meat that's been going on for over a year, I'd say. But since it's hard to think about making a rich, heavy meal in the heat of summer, I'm definitely seeing more "easy meatball" recipes in all the magazines, to the point where I grow weary and full of Meatball Fury, wanting more challenging things. My recent issue of St. Martha of the Holy Stewart's Everyday Food magazine had a whole section devoted to meatballs -- like, three or four different recipes! When I flipped to that section, even I had to take the name of Martha in vain and say, Martha Focker, what are you thinking?  Initially, I thought, Where's the variety? You can do a million things with ground meat? Why follow such an overdone trend, and so late in the season, at that??  (breeeeathe)

The Hatorade Rant in my braincapsule promptly ended when I looked at my own disaster-area excuse of a weekly planner. Scribbled notes crossed out, then re-circled, as if to signal in some secret code that no, that deadline still stands, and it was due yesterday. Blerg. And lately there's been more than a few days that dragged into 2am nights, finishing a project so that I could save time for an extra project that suddenly popped up unexpectedly, that will be due at 10am the next morning. You know this Freelance Dance that I speak of, and anyone who's juggling work with a family and home life can also shout an, Amen! to that. So when I have the odd moment to peer glassy-eyed at whatever Mr. Postman has delivered to my hobbit-hovel, I may yearn for fancier fare in theory, but simple-to-prepare humble comforts are what I really need.

So in reality, meatballs kind of save the day. You can make them with any type of ground meat -- even no meat! I've done a vegetarian version with smashed beans, cooked quinoa and an egg to bind, but you could probably replace the egg with some sticky, short-grain rice to give it a vegan-friendly binder. They can be baked, pan-seared, fried or boiled. The seasoning can vary -- Italian, Asian, Spanish, Greek, anything your worldly wanderlust appetite desires. One Friday evening, I saw no less than three different mentions over Twitter from people in different states, all making spaghetti and meatballs, I'm assuming for the same reason -- a long week finally come to an end, they wanted something familiar and hearty. It made me think back to the last time I made spaghetti and meatballs, and it was for that same reason. It wasn't fussy, it can be prepared easily from scratch, and there's something about this totally Americanized dish that feels like home.

Giant turkey meatballs, with or without spaghetti, plenty tasty - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I made giant turkey meatballs. I mean, seriously, they were huge, the size that could split a planet in two if Bruce Willis and his team of roughnecks can't land the space ship on it in time to shove a nuke in it. But the benefit of large balls (heh heh) is that it's less time forming them, especially if they're going to finish cooking in a sauce, which will ensure more gentle cooking. I know a mixture of pork, veal and beef are ideal, but I like ground turkey, as it seems to stay tender and I don't get the rubber ball toughness if it's overcooked. In a basic tomato sauce of canned tomatoes with a ton of garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes (I like spicy tomato sauce), the meatballs braise away. I usually like to give the surface an all-around sear, and build the sauce on the pan drippings before the meatballs finish cooking in the sauce. Many people prefer baking, which is great for large batches that won't all fit in a pot. Regardless of method, this is was a good reminder why the meatball craze is not without merit. Even when you're tired, you can mix some ground meat together with seasonings and form a few meteor-sized meat-spheres and let the stove do the work. And the result is nothing less than satisfying.

I turned to The Power of Meatballs when I had a surplus of tomatoes at varying degrees of overripeness. You've run into this before -- everyone brings stuff from their gardens or something wonderful from the farmers market to a barbecue, but then you're stuck with all these leftovers. The tomatoes had beautiful color, but rapidly softening -- into a sauce they went! A grilling surplus of orphan hot dog buns (arrrg, damn you Atkins no-bun hot dog eaters! Oh, who am I kidding, I'm one of those douches too.) resulted in a few days of meatball sandwiches. I don't understand the notion of meatball sliders -- a tall, round burger between a bun just seems like a recipe for lockjaw. But meatball sandwiches done sub/hoagie-style, that's more bite-friendly. Either making smaller meatballs or splitting them before adding them into the bread helps for easier eating and optimal surface area for topping with extra sauce and cheese. See, there's a science to eating meatballs! It was less about epic blog food, and more about making sure random leftovers didn't go to waste, but just like with an overstuffed schedule, Meatballs Are My Hero.

Meatballs saving the day, yet again - Photos by Wasabi Prime

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)