In Italy, the likelihood of finding spaghetti and meatballs on a restaurant menu is slim and none. The American palate believes that it’s inherently Italian fare, since every Italian locale in the US presents a heaping dose of spaghetti in tomato sauce co-piloted with the proverbial balls on top. Only in the Southern Italian city of Naples, their meatballs, polpette al sugo, are paired with a rich tomato sauce, but never on top of pasta.
And Italians are chronically in love with their polpette. Made from a mixture of ground veal, beef and/or pork that can be showcased as the main protagonist in many meals, as they’re hearty enough to be accompanied by crusty, peasant bread, a fresh, vibrant salad and a couple of glasses of robust red wine.
So why do American’s think spaghetti and meatballs as intrinsically Italian?
It could be that poor, early immigrants prepared meatballs and paired them with pasta, trying to stretch their ground beef, as many weren’t able to provide a multi-course meal, so it made for an inexpensive and substantial dish.
One could also hypothesize that in early days, some Italian restaurants catered to the same immigrants and realized that it was an economical and generous dish to add to their menu.
Whatever conjecture, the Italian-American community stuck spaghetti together with the axiomatic meatball for a comforting and ever-present classic.
This recipe kicks some serious culinary keister, and since every chef adds their own twist to personalize their dishes, I’ve splashed some white wine to the meat mixture, because everything is better with wine. While these cook, you’ll hear the hallelujah chorus of home-infused Italian food. And once you taste them, there’ll be inevitable goosebumps and a roll or two of the eyes, as your palate rejoices in culinary orgasmic bliss.
If you’re hellbent on serving them with spaghetti, go ahead. However, be revolutionary and audacious. Please serve them as it. You’ll soon realize that in this case, pasta is a frivolity.
POLPETTE ALLA NAPOLETANA
PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 400F
1 28 oz can of whole San Marzano tomatoes in their juice
1 bunch of fresh basil
3 garlic cloves
½ TSP salt
1 TSP butter
2 TBSP of olive oil
½ TSP red pepper flakes
½ onion – finely chopped
2 garlic cloves – finely minced
1 LB ground pork or bulk Italian sausage
1 LB of ground sirloin
2 slices of stale white bread – soaked in some milk
2 TBSP white wine
1 TSP of Tuscan seasoning
1 TSP fresh thyme
1 TSP fresh oregano
2 TBSP ricotta cheese
Small grating of nutmeg
1 TSP each of fresh ground pepper and kosher salt
1 large egg – lightly beaten
¼ cup of ground fresh Parmegiano Reggiano
2 TBSP fresh chopped parsley
Fresh chopped parsley
Fresh chopped basil
Some chopped pistachios
Sprinkling of Parmegiano
Loaf of crusty bread for mopping
Fresh green salad (Baby spinach, arugula, butter lettuce, parsley, chopped basil, thinly sliced English cucumbers, small cherry tomatoes, Parmegiano – Dressing: 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar, 2 TBSP EVOO, pinch of salt, fresh cracked pepper, ½ TSP honey – whisked together)
In a bowl, empty the can of tomatoes with their juices. Crush them by hand removing their center core, as they don’t cook down.
In a small skillet, add some olive oil and sweat the onions and the garlic with a pinch of salt, till translucent – about 5-6 minutes. Cool.
In a medium saucepan, heat up about 2 TSP of olive oil and
In another large kitchen bowl, add the meats, the cooled onion and garlic mixture, the beaten egg, the soaked bread with milk (having squeezed out some of the milk but not all). The herbs, small grate of nutmeg, Tuscan seasoning, parsley, white wine, Parmigiano, ricotta cheese, salt and pepper. Blend all the ingredients together but don’t overmix. Wet your hands and form the meatball to the size of golf balls.
Place them in a foil covered, oiled cookie sheet. Bake them till lightly brown for about 20 minutes. This is a better way than adding them raw to the sauce to cook, as it keeps them whole without disintegrating.
Add them to the tomato sauce and simmer them for an additional 10 minutes so they cook through.
In serving bowls, add some tomato sauce on the bottom, pile a generous portion of meatballs and finish with a flourish of garnishes. Serve alongside toasted baguette slices and the fresh green side salad.
The small amount off on the ground pork or mild Italian sausage allows for the balls to remain moist and not dried out.
The 2 TSP of ricotta cheese might sound unorthodox, but it acts as a binder and makes the meatballs extra creamy and succulent. Culinary orgasmic bliss at its best. I know I’m repeating myself, but these balls are just that opulent.