The most popular meatballs and marinara sauce dish as we know it today originated, of course, from Italy. The combination of the famous duo over spaghetti, however is an invention of Italian immigrants to America during the Great Depression. For the struggling newcomers canned tomatoes and spaghetti where the few familiar items amongst very few products available in grocery stores. This is how it evolved in the US.
Traditionally, the Italian meatballs are called polpettes and are served in soups or on their own. Although, pork & beef mince seem to be favoured in the “common” meatballs recipe, Italians (and Chinese) in some regions also use fish.
In Poland meatballs are called pulpety lub klopsy and almost always are served in a meat sauce over potatoes, rice or a type of whole-grain buckwheat.
Pellegrino Artusi, considered a father of the modern Italian cuisine said once:
“Don’t think I’m pretentious enough to teach you how to make meatballs. This is a dish that everybody can make, starting with the donkey.” You were absolutely right, Pellegrino.
All you need is a bit of mince, an egg and some bread crumbs to bind it all together. Everything else that goes with the meatballs depends on your imagination and the sky is the limit!
It takes no more than 30 minutes to make meatballs
It seems that meatballs are so easy to make that most cultures, including outside Europe and Americas, have developed their own versions, and possibly before the Italians.
I would love to try the Vietnamese version as it has some extra garlic in it!
My variation of meatballs has roasted head of garlic, rosemary and cumin as I like to use some lamb in the combination with beef for the really deep and meaty flavour.
I also like to serve it over my simplified version of a Ratatouille.
- 250 g minced beef
- 250 g minced lamb
- 1 egg
- 50 g grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 medium onion (very finely chopped)
- 1 roasted garlic head (cloves squeezed out)
- 4 tbsp bread crumbs
- ½ tsp fresh rosemary (very finely chopped)
- 1 tsp oregano (dry)
- 3 tbsp parsley (very finely chopped)
- ½ tsp cumin (ground)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 500 g ripe tomatoes (rough sliced)
- 100g of aubergine (roughly chopped)
- 100g bell pepper
- 2 medium onions (sliced)
- 4 garlic cloves (sliced)
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley leaves (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp fresh basil (finely chopped)
- Pinch of salt & pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
- In a bowl, combine all meatball ingredients (excluding oil): minced meat, garlic cloves squeezed out of the garlic head, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, very finely chopped onion, seasoning & herbs (you can grind the herbs instead of chopping).
- Shape the mixture in to 12-14 balls (size of a golf ball or a bit smaller) and (in 2 or 3 batches) gently brown them all around on a medium heat in the olive oil.
- Place the meatballs in the oven proof dish in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes.
- Serve with a sprinkle of the Parmesan cheese or/and over gently stewed veggies like Ratatouille.
- To make the Ratatouille place the chopped veggies (except tomatoes and parsley) in a deep pan with the oil and on the slow heat, sweat until nice and medium soft (around 20 minutes). In the last 5 add the tomatoes and parsley, season, mix well and serve.