At this time of year especially, as we settle in for a long, dark, rainy winter, and the demands of the Christmas season are cranking up, book club is a respite from storms both literal and metaphorical. It is an island of rest, warmth, and good cheer.
Book club was at Mechele’s last week. The book was Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy. Mechele set a festive holiday table, and served a delicious meal, as always. And there were presents! Wonderful presents were exchanged. But the present I want to talk about, the one that is important here, was Diana’s gift. “We called him Bully,” she said, handing each of us a package of frozen hamburger wrapped in butcher paper and decorated with cascading ribbons. “It’s grass-fed beef,” she continued. “It would be good for meatballs…”
A pound of hamburger from a cow (or bull, to be precise!) that was raised on Diana’s farm, free-range and grass fed, slaughtered on site by a mobile butcher, then handed over bedecked in ribbons with the casual elegance that is quintessentially Diana…I was momentarily speechless with the beauty of such a gift. Then I think there was squealing.
I didn’t wait long before following Diana’s suggestion about the meatballs.
Michael made his classic marinara sauce this weekend, and I rolled a couple dozen meatballs—enough for dinner, and some to spare for the freezer.
I have always subscribed to the baked meatball school of thought, putting a brown crust on meatballs in the oven before adding them to my sauce. However, lately I have been reading recipes that call for dropping the raw meatballs directly into the simmering sauce, to cook gently and, so they say, emerge tender and delicious.
And because we like to do things the scientific way, we started half of the meatballs in the oven, turning them occasionally until crusty and brown, then finishing them in the sauce. The other half went directly into the sauce.
The verdict? Both were good. Very good, in fact. A classic, flavorful mouthful of the richness of beef and pork, enhanced but not overwhelmed by the other ingredients. But I must admit to a slight preference for the meatballs that were simmered without baking. They held their shape well, but were beautifully tender in texture, just as promised—a pleasure to eat.
I will still bake meatballs when they will be served on their own, but from now on, whenever there is marinara involved, my meatballs will be simmered.
- ¾ cup dried breadcrumbs
- ½ cup milk
- 1 lb ground beef
- ¼ lb mild Italian sausage
- ¾ cup ground parmesan
- 2 tbsp dried parsley flakes
- 1 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl. Add eggs and whisk to blend. Add all remaining ingredients and gently mix until combined.
Roll mixture into golf-ball sized balls.
At this point, the meatballs can be refrigerated overnight, or frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, then stored in an airtight freezer container until ready to thaw and use.
To cook meatballs: Carefully distribute in a single layer in pot of sauce. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat. Cover and simmer until cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Makes about 24 meatballs.