Thursday, August 6, 2009

Great Balls of Meat!

I love meatballs. I mean I love meat in any form, but mash it into balls with onion and spices and you've got something really special. The Swedes may have perfected the meatball, but the italians laid the groundwork, and created the many forms we see today. Today they're found on pasta, in sandwiches, soups and stews, freezer cases at Ikea, and cheesy, late 70's career vehicles starring Bill Murray.

What's interesting to me is how the flavor and texture of a dish can be strongly influenced by the form of its meat product. A great example is pasta week at our house. It occurs randomly, and when it does it almost always consists of whole wheat pasta with some combination of sauces, sauteed or roasted vegetables and nuts, and ground meat. Always slightly different, always delicious. This week Kate got creative and made meatballs out of the ground meat. Everything other ingredient class was the same. The dish was vastly different than it had ever been. The meatballs, and I guess the fact that they were cooked outside the sauce first and the simmered in for 20 minutes made the sauce taste much different than it usually does. It was delicious, and probably the most classic tasting sauce we'd ever made. Now imagine if we made the sauce with chunks of steak. The form of the meat, even the same meat in all cases, makes a big difference in the final product.

And meatballs seem to be the pinnacle of meatdom.

But caution must be exercised. They are round, after all, and prone to rolling, which has proven unfortunate for many diners throughout history. We all remember what happened in the mid 1800's, nestled in the Smokey mountains, after a light dusting of cheese had blown through the region. As the story goes, some poor unfortunate lost their meatball after a diner at the same table (or a neighboring table, the details are unknown) sneezed. Apparently the sneeze wave pushed the meatball off the table, onto the floor, with enough force to then send it rolling straight out the door. When search parties found it, days later in the garden, under a bush, the rogue meatball was nothing but mush.

It's a horrible ending for a proud meatball. So take the tale for the warning it is. Don't eat your pasta around chronically sick individuals. Even if the sneeze hadn't managed to move the meatball from its pasta cradle it would have coated it in a thin glaze of sick sauce, rendering it inedible. Open windows, though not explicitly mentioned in our story, should also be avoided, as a strong gust could also send your meatballs hurtling doorward. I guess if you take away any lesson here it should be this. If you must eat meatballs in the vicinity of the ill, open windows, fans, heating vents, leaf blowers or compressed air tanks, for god's sake at least close the door first.

A good meatball is a terrible thing to waste.

*Another sad story: No one can attest to the magic of the meatball more than my sister Stephanie, a regular reader of this blog. She is a HUGE fan of all meat products, from veal to venison, meat balls to meat pies. Unfortunately, in her early teens she was diagnosed with a moderate case of vegetarianism. Her system can handle fish and seafood products, but is unable to digest any sort of land-based animal protein. As you can imagine it was a terrible blow to such a bona fide carnivore. She makes due as best she can. They can do wonderful things with prosthetics and texturized vegetable protein. Her Tofurkys look almost like the real thing, and TVP crumbles taste nearly fresh off the cows side. But they're just not the same. Please donate generously to the National Beef Council, the Poultry Farmers of America, and various other Chuck Norris fronted organizations so that one day a cure might be found and Steph can once more grind her vicious maw through a plate of assorted grilled meat products.


  1. LIES...LIES...all vicious LIES!!!! I NEVER ate veal and I have no idea what a meat pie is. Don't worry about me, fellow readers, I have not been afflicted by a horrible disease. I only had my eyes opened to the beautiful world of vegetarianism. I have no desire to "grind my maw thru a plate of assorted meat products", grilled or otherwise. This is just another case of "the man (ie Jason Bloom)" trying to break me down! Fight the Power!

  2. Sounds like the wild ravings of a brain starved for the sweet greasy amino acids found only in a heaping pile of freshly killed animal flesh (and soybeans, but ignore these seven words). That violent outburst was just Steph's natural hunter instincts, repressed by her illness, trying to find outlet. If only she could take hold of the catharsis provided by an all-you-can-eat endangered species steak buffet.

    It's painful to watch her suffering.

  3. Jason just wishes that he had the willpower to give up food...ANY kind of food! As many of you loyal readers know, Jason has a bit of an obsession with food in general...there are no less than 21 entries on this blog devoted to food, eating food, dreaming of food, loving food. Maybe that, my dear brother, is the real sickness.

    P.S. And believe me folks, I am not suffering.