Meatballs of love

May 15, 2007

Italian meat balls with purple sprouting

Some dishes are just so surprisingly good they make you burst into spontaneous laughter. One mouthful of these Marcella Hazan meatballs had the MC and me giggling like naughty school kids. The wonder of the event sprang from its unexpectedness. How could the mundane old meatball scale such heights? I guess you should never underestimate the ability of the Italians to turn plain old mince into gastro-gold.

This recipe reminds me of a film I saw when I was a member of an arty-farty film club at uni. I can’t remember the name, but I think it was a Belgian flick. The ‘action’ happened in real time, and largely consisted of a middle aged woman doing mundane household chores around a flat in Brussels – having a bath, polishing shoes, sweeping the floor. In real time. Over about 4 hours. Yes, the pain of watching this movie was almost unbearable.

Unsurprisingly, the audience started to dwindle as the movie shuffled along. Being a history student, and having nothing better to do, I persevered, and after a couple of hours I passed through a pain barrier and became hypnotised by these banal events. It was at this point that the nameless housewife started making meatballs, and the camera focussed in on a ball of bloody meat being slowly, slowly kneaded. The suspense was unbearable. This blandly surreal scene has haunted me since.

The film continued, and half an hour or so later the woman’s son comes home from school and the two of them eat a meal of meatballs together in excruciating silence. After dinner an unnamed man knocks on the door, is invited in, and without ceremony stabbed to death, with a pair of scissors as I remember it.

Since that day, I’ve never been able to eat a meatball without being grateful that the state paid for me to waste three years of my life watching utterly pointless subtitled movies. I hope one day, if I ever have kids, that the state will pay for them to waste three years of their lives in a similar fashion. Scrap tuition fees, I say.

Italian meat balls

Making these beefy nuggets of joy is a fairly long, involved process. It’s best to go to the original for the full details, but here’s a functional summary:

  1. Cook a slice of crustless white bread in 6 tbs warm milk, leave til soft, then mash.
  2. Mix 1lb well-hung minced beef with a finely chopped onion, some parsley, a grating of nutmeg, a wee drizzle of olive oil, an egg, 3tbs grated parmesan and the mushy bread-milk mixture. Season well.
  3. After gently kneading the mixture for a while, shape into 1″ balls of love and roll in fine, dry breadcrumbs.
  4. Fry the balls in about 1/4″ of hot veggie oil in a large saute pan, until nicely browned.
  5. Remove the balls and tip out the hot oil. Give the pan a quick rinse and return to the heat, adding a glug of fresh olive oil, a tin of Italian toms, a pinch of salt and the meatballs. Leave to cook at a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  6. Serve. Eat. Giggle.

6 Responses to “Meatballs of love”

  1. BB's Richard Says:

    I love meatballs and pasta and will now be day-dreaming about them for the rest of the day…. I’m intrigued by the pre-cooking of the bread – going to have to try that next time. My M.B. tip: add some chilli flakes and ground-up fennel seeds.

  2. gastropunk Says:

    Hows it going BB’s Richy? Long time no see… The bread cooked in milk is there to add a lightness to the MBs – and it really works. Ground fennel seeds… hmmmm… that’s an intriguing idea – is that a Mexican thing or did you come up with that yourself? Do you have to roast the fennel before grinding it?

  3. BB's Richard Says:

    Hey GP – life is fine although May = lots of economy class travel for the sake of my job…. Maybe its time for Freelance BB’s R to emerge!

    Not sure where I got the idea for fennel seeds. Think I was just trying stuff, although I could have been guessing what flavours were in stuff i’d eaten. Can’t really remember.

    I don’t pre-roast them – that might over-do it a bit (?) but I’ll give it a try next time (along with the milk cooked bread idea). I just use the old P&M to bash them to bits.

  4. crzy_rgntnn Says:

    Wasn´t the film called Big Brother?

  5. academicmum Says:

    Hey thanks GP for v. evocative description – made me nostalgic for afternoon matinees in fusty cinemas – had forgotten all about that. That Belgian meat-kneading sounds therapeutic – I might skip the dessert course though.


  6. OM Says:

    Hello GP & MC
    I’d like to ask you a few questions about your blog for a magazine piece I’m writing – could you give me a phone number or email address so I can explain more?

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