The Italian meatball (believed to have originated during the Roman Empire around 55 AD.) has reached legendary status here in the United States and like it’s counterpart in Italy has many variations, as well as differences in how they are consumed. In Italy, for example, meatballs are served as a stand alone item and not eaten with pasta (although some tourist driven restaurants do offer “spaghetti with meatballs”, especially in northern Italy).
Our meatball eating experience is varied and we’ve consumed them stuffed with provola and pan fried, braised in tomato sauce, and poached in a lovely chicken broth. Our favorite way to prepare meatballs include utilizing ground pork, beef, and veal and gently pan frying them to develop a deep flavor profile and golden crust. We don’t braise our meatballs in tomato sauce, but rather laddle a bit of tomato sauce over the meatballs just before serving.
One of the key steps in creating world class meatballs is to not overwork the ingredients when mixing, so keep this tip in mind when combining the ingredients. In a large bowl add the ground meat, garlic, onion, grated cheese, parsley, salt and pepper, and breadcrumbs. Gently mix the ingredients by hand (do not use a mechanical mixer) until the ingredients are combined. Next, combine the egg and milk in a smaller bowl and mix well. Add the milk/egg mixture to the already combined ingredients and mix until the meat has absorbed the liquid (again keeping mind to not overwork the mixture). All mixing should be done by hand.
Next, scoop about 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the mixture into your hand and gently form a ball. Again, do not overwork the mixture. You’re simply looking to keep the integrity of the ball shape and not to create a snowball-like meatball you can hurl through the air (tightly packing the meat will result in a very tough and dense meatball). You can make the meatballs larger but we like our meatballs on the smaller side. Next, bring the Canola oil up to heat in a large fry pan and place 6-7 meatballs in your pan being careful not to crowd the pan. You should have a medium flame going underneath your pan because you will not be finishing the meatballs in tomato sauce. The medium flame will ensure you don’t burn the meatball exterior while leaving the interior raw. I generally fry the meatballs for about 2-3 minutes on each side and then remove them to an elevated oven tray (and place them in a 200 degree C oven until they’re ready to be consumed).
Prior to serving you can ladle a bit of hot tomato sauce over the meatballs, this way the lovely meaty crust is preserved with the added luxury of a bit of tomato sauce.