These are the most tender meatballs I have ever tasted.
The meatball is made all over the world. There are literally hundreds of recipes for them. The Italians, however, make what may be the world’s best-loved meatballs. Originally, the meatball was made to be able to use the tough meat from farm animals before agriculture was motorized. The meatball may be the only dish where the main ingredient—meat—is only important in the name. It is the condiments added to the chopped meat that give the meatball its character. In Sicily, the proportions of meat to bread were related to the wealth of whatever family made them. Stale bread was moistened with milk or water and then, to cover up its taste any number of ingredients were used. Garlic, onions, vegetables, nuts, fruits, and spices were pressed into service and blended into the mixture.
Just what makes this meatball Sicilian?
Two ingredients are traditionally associated with Sicilian cooking: Pine nuts (or pinoli) are native to Sicily) and currants. They don’t overwhelm but they’re there—the tiny little currants give you a pop of fruit and the pine nuts a subtle crunch. But it’s the choice of one non-Sicilian ingredient that makes these the most melt-in-your-mouth tender meatball I have ever tasted. It’s the bread. For everything from meatloaf to crabcakes, I love to use Brioche buns or Challah bread. These eggy alternatives to plain white bread—or worse dried breadcrumbs—keep these meatballs moister. I may have knocked some of the Sicilian out of the recipe. Brioche is French and Challah is Jewish. But they both do a lot for my Sicilian meatballs. And this recipe makes a lot of meatballs. I served it as Spaghetti and Meatballs. Or serve them as appetizers after you’ve handed out the napkins. Here are some more meatballs to try and today’s recipe.
Tiny little currants give you a pop of fruit and the pinenuts a subtle crunch in the most tender meatball we’d ever tasted.
- Two 28 ounce cans of peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed.
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
- 4 slices of Challah bread or 2 Brioche hamburger buns, torn into pieces
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup flat-leaf (Italian parsley)
- 1 tsp. minced marjoram
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- ½ cup dried currants
- ¼ cup pine (pignoli) nuts
- ¼ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving.
- 2 cups vegetable oil for frying.
- Step 1 In a large bowl, soak the Brioche or Challah in water until saturated. Squeeze out the water and transfer the bread to another large bowl. Mash the bread to a paste and stir in the eggs, garlic, parsley, marjoram, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mash until smooth. Add the beef, currants, pine nuts, and cheese and gently mix until just combined. Add the Brioche or Challah 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until the mixture is firm enough to roll. Form the mixture into 36 meatballs (about 3 tablespoons each), tucking in the currants and pine nuts.
- Step 2 In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs in 2 batches and fry over moderate heat, turning, until browned and cooked through, about 12 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate.
- Step 3 Pour the tomatoes into a large enameled cast-iron casserole and crush them
- Step 4 Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
- Step 5 Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Step 6 Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Freezes beautifully so it’s well worth making the whole recipe and keeping these beauties on hand.
- Step 7 Serve the meatballs with your favorite long pasta—spaghetti, linguine, or Fettucine