by Mary Cokenour
I like trilogies. The beginning, which sets the stage; the middle expands the story; the ending, which completes.
I also believe in the number three. In math it is classified as a real number; in faith, it is a power number.
The Grecian Three Fates deciding when life will end; the Triple Crossroads of birth, life, death; the Holy Trinity; the Nine Levels of Hell, and the square root of nine is three…a perfect number.
I am ending my trilogy with an all-time favorite at any Italian dinner table, meatballs. Let me set the stage.
A favorite show on the Food Network Channel is Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”. I find new places to try but also recipes to try out in my own kitchen.
I like Guy too; he’s funny, ridiculous at times, and knows how to draw you in to enjoy the show. Many of the places he features does Italian food, so I pay particular attention to those since Italian is one of my favorite cuisines.
One diner owner prepared meatballs, using fresh sliced, white bread soaked in milk as the binder for the meat.
Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, I learned in my family, and other families, to use bread crumbs, mainly from loaves of Italian bread that had gone stale, ground into fine crumbs and then added to the meat mixture.
In my first marriage, I learned that was the way his family, who were Italian, also did it, so who was I to question the norm? Then again, I’ve become a lot more adventurous in the kitchen since those days and was going to try this other method of bread soaked in milk.
Another reason, where I live now you cannot find real, authentic Italian bread made with Semolina flour. It’s all made with “enriched white flour” which, to me, is basically plain, old white bread.
Instead of the dried Italian seasoned crumbs, I broke up slices of white bread, about six, and soaked them in one cup of milk instead of the 3/4 cup called for in my recipe. I also increased my Italian seasoning mixture to 1/4 cup.
Adding this to the rest of the ingredients, I found that you had to work the soaked bread into the meat more, making sure to break up any large clumps. Baking time was the same, but I only got 18 meatballs instead of the usual 20; not a big deal though.
After cooking these in sauce came the taste testing. Besides hubby and myself, I asked a couple of other folks to try them out against my regularly made meatballs, without telling them which was which.
The conclusion: While the bread soaked in milk meatball had a firmer texture, the overall taste was the same as my original style meatball.
Everyone liked both types and would willingly eat both without a problem. They were delicious. They were authentically homemade not those rubber ones sold in the freezer department of the grocery.
One comment I especially liked was, “These are the most tender meatballs I have ever eaten!”
So there you go.
Overall conclusion: it comes down to basically what you grew up on and what you are comfortable making and eating. However, by trying a new idea, I know now that if I’m out of dried bread crumbs, I can use the milk soaked bread, still get a decent result, and not a disaster.
Here’s my Original Meatball Recipe:
Lean ground beef (90 percent or more) is best for meatballs since they are finished off cooking in sauce. If a lesser lean meat is used, the fat would seep into the sauce, making it oily and unappetizing. The meatballs are first baked in an oven to remove any excess grease.
These meatballs are the typical New York Italian style, about the size of a tennis ball, and while great with a pasta dish, they can also be used for meatball sandwiches (subs, heroes, grinders, or whatever they are called in an area).
4 lbs. lean ground beef (90 percent or more)
2 lbs. ground pork (NOT ground breakfast sausage!)
1 ½ cups Italian seasoned dry breadcrumbs
1/8 cup Italian seasoning mix
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
¾ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray jelly roll pans with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly; making sure all dry ingredients are mixed well with wet ingredients. Form the meat mixture into balls, about 2 ¾” (size of a tennis ball); place on jellyroll pans.
Bake meatballs for 20 minutes; dab on paper towels to remove any grease and immerse into sauce. Allow meatballs to cook in sauce until sauce is ready; 4-6 hours depending on cooking technique (crock pot or stove top) being used. Serve with pasta, or use meatballs for a sandwich.
Makes about 20 meatballs.