Snowy Palms Italian Meatballs

Many years ago, while the earth was still cooling and Led Zeppelin was ruling, I spent a few months in Europe and my magical mystical tour of the Continent began with a few weeks in Italy down Reggio Calabria way.

It was a great time to be 20 years old in Europe, no real threats in the street other than the Baader-Meinhof Gang running amok in Germany, and the IRA plying their trade on the Emerald Isle.

In Italy the mob controlled a lot of business but they were benevolent dictators and the people I was surrounded by accepted them as part of the community. It was a fun time. No worries for a naive kid like me. No terminal social diseases, the Canadian flag on my jacket still meant something and the world-traveling girls I met thought I was worthy of their time, quite unlike the girls back in Vancouver who fancied me a droll troll, at best.

I did love the food throughout all of Italy and in the little town I was in for the beginning of the carnal odyssey the trip eventually became, the food was tomato based everything, and meat, lots of meat. Meatballs figured prominently into the food rotation and they were fantastic.

I have read accounts from food purists that Italian meatballs were an American invention and not original or borne of the old country. Hogwash! I was there and they were served in homes and restaurants throughout the southern part of the country. They varied in composition and presentation but they were there.

The American version pairs the meatball with spaghetti and marinara sauce or Bolognese sauce. In Italy the meatballs were served as the meat course in the evening meal. Sometimes with a sauce covering them, other times just baked or fried and served with a drizzle of olive oil or other simple accompaniment.

I will say however the best meatballs I have ever eaten were in a roadside Italian restaurant in Oklahoma. Yes!!! Oklahoma. While being taken on a tour of the countryside by a representative of the Komatsu dealer there we stopped at one of his favourite restaurants and I was blown away when the food arrived at the table. It was like I was back in Reggio Calabria; the meatballs were enormous and out of this world. Yup Oklahoma. I just wish I could remember the name of that fine place to spread their word, but it is lost to me now.

I often drift back to my most excellent European tour and remember the escapades and the friends I met there and I would love to pen my memoirs of that time, however some things are best left unsaid or unprinted and because of those fun, but bad (relative term) decisions, I will never get to heaven, but it was sooooooooo worth it.

Anyway, I was drooling over the thought of meatballs today so I made a batch when I got home. They are quick and easy and very tasty.

1 pound regular ground beef 

1 pound ground pork

¾ cup milk
1 cup Panko bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
¼ cup fresh minced parsley, dried will work fine as well
1 tsp white pepper
½ tsp black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 eggs, beaten well
¾ cup olive oil or grapeseed oil

Heat the milk until steam rises. Add Panko to the hot milk, stir well to moisten the Panko, set aside to cool.

Place Parmesan cheese, garlic, parsley, both peppers, the oregano and mix together in a large mixing bowl.

Add beaten egg and mix well.

Add the moistened Panko crumbs and blend together with a whisk.

Place beef and pork into the Panko mix and using your hands mix the ingredients together gently, do not overwork the mixture or they can get tough or rubbery when cooked.  Once all the ingredients are mingling nicely, stop mixing.  If you see some bread crumbs in the mixture don’t worry, they will cook nicely.

Moisten your hands with cold water to lessen the meat from sticking to them then form the meatballs by rolling a spoonful of the meat mixture into the size you desire.  I like big balls (Freudian thing I guess) but you can make them any size you want or are comfortable working with.

Once the meatballs are formed, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs to the hot pan but do not crowd them too tightly together. Brown the meatballs on two sides.

Once all the meatballs are browned, remove them to drain the oil. Once the pan is drained of oil add the marinara sauce you had prepared earlier, and place the browned meatballs back into the pan with the sauce and bring the sauce to a gentle boil (you did make marinara sauce didn’t you???).

Turn the meatballs over in the sauce to coat evenly.

Turn down heat to medium low, cover the pan and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is at 170 degrees (I prefer to take their temperature every few minutes after 10 minutes has elapsed).  If they are overcooked, they will shrink up as they cook off the moisture and when they shrink they get tough (small man, rather, small balls syndrome).

Serve with pasta, gnocchi, rice or just some good quality bread. Sprinkle with a little freshly grated cheese and serve hot. Slice for a meatball sub even. Tres yummy!