Monday, March 15, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs

It all started with a cookbook. I sent my friend Loren (of meatloaf fame)  a crock-pot cookbook because he and his brother work long hours and need slow cooker help.  He made meatballs. He stretched it over two days , only heightening my hunger for meatballs.

This recipe is adapted from Rao's Recipes from the Neighborhood by Frank Pellegrino.  If you don't know about Rao's restauarant in East Harlem, New York, here's a little bit of background. The restaurant was opened by Charles Rao in 1896. Always family run, and always at the same location (with 10 tables no less) Frank Pellegrino and Ron Straci took over the operation from their Aunt and Uncle in.... I couldn't find a date.. 70's I would guess.  Certainly  a red letter day in the history of Rao's was that date in 1977 when Mimi Sheraton, the NY Times food critic at the time, gave Rao's a rave review.  She came to be known as "the woman who ruined Rao's"... in the sense that with only 10 tables and one service per evening, no one could get in! The decision was made to "give" a table to the regulars one night of the week. These were the people of the neighborhood, not the high and mighty in New York, although some came to be famous in their own time. Anyhoo, you can't get into Rao's NY from what I hear. But they have opened an outpost in Las Vegas, also run by a family member. Much of this is drawn from memory so I apologize if dates/names may be incorrect.

The thing that drew me to this cookbook was from my own life. In my late teens, early twenties, I lived with a family with a Mom from Parma, Italy. She married a WWII soldier and came to America with him. All of her siblings immigrated as well, only they ended up in Parma, Ohio and she was all alone here in Atlanta. I mean all alone as in, without her sisters, and they were very close. She was an AMAZING cook. Her Sunday gravy was something I will aspire to make for the rest of my life. She took the simplest ingredients and turned them into a grand feast.  I knew it was good at the time, but being a teeny-twenty I was not into cooking at the time and never asked her to teach me.  If I could go back in time, that might be the one thing I would do. She was a shy but a warm and gracious woman, I loved her very much and am forever grateful for the love she showed me. God rest her soul. This cookbook comes as close as anything I have seen to her style of cooking.

On with the show:
I was intrigued that on page 124 is the recipe for Frankie's meatballs and on 125 is the recipe for Mario's meatballs (Mario Curko). They are almost identical, just 2 differences that I counted.  Anyway, I went with Mario's because he uses milk to moisten and both WSH and I went to the store and bought milk, so we were overloaded.

Mario's Meatballs
makes 14-18 2.5 in - 3 in meatballs.  (My inch-o-meter must be broken! I wound up with about 24)

2 T olive oil plus 1 cup
1 onion diced
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 ib ground pork * I used 1 lb beef and 1 lb pork
2 large eggs
1 c freshly grated Percorino Romano
1 1/2 T chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 small garlic clove minced
Salt and Pepper to taste * I used 1 t each
2 c plain bread crumbs ( they mean the dry kind - I went 50/50 dry and fresh 'cause that's what I had)
2 c milk (I only used 1 cup)
1 garlic clove lightly smashed

Heat 2 T oil in a skillet and sweat the onions until translucent, about 3-4 minutes, then remove to a bowl and set aside.

Combine the meat in a large bowl, add the cheese, garlic, parsley onions, eggs, S&P and using your hands gently blend them together. Next add the bread crumbs and mix it all together. Lastly, add the milk, 1 c at a time, blending until the mixture is moist.

Shape the meat mixture into 2.5- 3 in balls and heat the remaining oil in a  large skillet over medium heat. Thrown in a garlic clove and sautee until golden (2-3 min) then remove garlic and discard. Fry the meatballs in batches taking care not to crowd the pan, until a brown crust has formed (5 min according to the recipe) and then flip them and fry another 5 min.   **CAUTION** I followed these directions to a T and wound up with this on my first round (there is a cup of cheese and at least a cup of milk - translate lactose/sugar-translate burns easily):

Bullet was very happy. She knew she had won round 1. She HATES having her picture taken. I think she was in a travelling circus that visited that tribe in Africa that believes that photographs steal your soul.  And looking at today's celebrities... who's to say they are wrong? But I digress....

Although after WSH came downstairs, the inventory had shrunk.

Round 2 on lower heat was more successful. Meanwhile I heated a jar of Rao's Marinara Sauce. Yes, I could have made my own but I had a very bad night and an equally bad day and didn't feel like it -- although the $8 price tag made me think twice. I heated the sauce and doctored it with a little fresh oregano and a pinch of dried Italian herbs. When the meatballs were crusted on both sides,I removed them to a plate,  I drained the oil and added the sauce to the still hot skillet and then gently placed the meatballs back in. This mixture simmered for about 45 min.

Then I asked WSH to make the Spaghetti, which he did, perfectly al dente and we ate. It was lovely!  Great flavors in the meatballs, very nice sauce too, I have to say. I think Mary Vinch Adams would have been proud!

Still waiting on the breast of veal.. More Keller coming I swear.

See you soon.


  1. um are those suppose to be that black lol.

  2. Yes, Loren, they SHOULD be that lack, and yours should be as well! Silly. Why did you think Bullet got to eat them?

  3. Sally, thought of you when I read this: Thomas Keller book signing at Williams-Sonoma Lenox Square, March 24. At 1 p.m. Keller will sign his new book Ad Hoc at Home. He will only sign books purchased at Williams-Sonoma. Proof of purchase is required. For more information call 404-812-1703.