Wednesday, June 6, 2007


I found this article on the resurgence of the humble meatball in today's Times. And oh jeeze, I would warn you not to read it when you're hungry because it's dizzyingly scrumptious. Now, I'm not one who needs be reminded of how good a good meatball can be. Back when I was a little Brendan, far littler than I am now, spaghetti and meatballs were my favorite dinner, my favorite song, and my favorite book. So it's been a bit of a lifelong love for me.

Now, maybe the meatball's popularity with children is why it needs recuperation. When we're kids, or at least when I was a kid, I ate from a stable rotation of one or two staple foods (meatballs, ramen, mac & cheese, you know the deal) and as my pallet got a bit more mature, I put away those childish things. Which is a shame when it comes to the meatball (not so much of a shame with mac & cheese) because the meatball can be a part of a wonderfully complex meal.

My signature dinner is meatballs. I started by taking this recipe from the Splendid Table and tweaking with it over a couple of months until it got to the point it is now. I'll still experiment, and I encourage you to, too: substituting the sage for rosemary, the pork for ground duck, or the wine for red wine vinegar are all variations that have served me well in the past. I bet you could throw a peach or two in here, too - if you were feeling daring enough.

Brendan's Balls
(serves 4)
The Balls
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground sausage
Some breadcrumbs
2 eggs
Some sage
Little garlic

The Sauce
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, diced
1 large can tomatoes
Zest of two large oranges
Some sage
Some basil, torn
Handful of olives, finely chopped
2 cups red wine
6 tablespoons sugar

Okay. So. What you do is combine all the ingredients for the balls. No worry, no hurry. Brown them and then take them off the heat.

Next, get a fry pan and heat up a little bit of olive oil. Throw in the diced onion and cook it until it's lightly browned. Then throw in some salt & a lot more pepper than you'd normally throw in if somebody just told you to throw in some pepper. Then - quickly - add the sugar and caramelize that sucker. Stir frequently, keeping a good watch that the mixture doesn't burn.

Side note: a lot of people are very wary of caramel, because they think it's some ultra-mysterious process that's really easy to mess up. Well, it is really easy to mess up - if you take your eyes off the pan. If you watch it well enough, you're not going to have any trouble.

Once the onions have gotten a nice burnished brown color, throw in the garlic, olives, orange zest and sage. Stir that around. Now, throw in the wine - step back! - that'll splatter and you don't want your clothes stained because that's not gonna impress the ladies. You'll also going to want to turn on the fan because it gets stinky. Reduce the sauce until it's almost a syrup, then add in the tomatoes, with the juice. Mash those up with your flipper as much as you can, then add in the meatballs (and whatever gravy's in the pan) and cover, stirring infrequently until the sauce is a nice consistency.

Bob's your uncle. Meatballs for dinner.

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