February 23, 2006

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Carbs and comfort all the way
Spaghetti and meatballs big sellers
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

There must have been divine intervention when the duo of spaghetti and meatballs was dreamed up. Remember the scene from Lady and the Tramp?

Simple and affordable to make, filling and long on childhood memories, this purely American dish is served by the plateful at restaurants throughout America.

Sure, meatballs and spaghetti are Italian, but in Italy, they are not served together. Ever. Like another American culinary invention, chop suey, spaghetti and meatballs became popular in the US in the 20th century.

Today, restaurants report that sales of spaghetti and meatballs are strong – which makes sense because carbs are back and comfort food is all the rage. A heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs is a natural fit.

At home, if the dynamic duo is not part of your menu repertoire, now might be the time to try it out. Spaghetti and meatballs is easy and economical to make and (this is important with post-holiday budget crunch going on in many households) the dish will not break the bank.

For many of us, our memories of spaghetti and meatballs come from one or more of three places: a simmering pot of meatballs on the stove at home, a lone meatball teetering high on spaghetti on the school lunch tray and a can of either Chef BoyArDee or Butoni.

Johnny Pailoni, owner and chef at Piccola Italia in Manchester, says there was nothing like his mother’s meatballs. She would simmer homemade meatballs in fresh marinara for several hours. Mrs. Pailoni had all she could do from keeping her son from dipping bread into the pot for a taste.

“All I wanted to do was dip a little bread in for a taste. The meatballs changed the marinara and it became so flavorful and robust,” said Pailoni.

At Piccola Italia, Pailoni makes lots of meatballs. He feels that the most important things are to use a good ground beef, eggs and bread crumbs and a fresh marinara. Pailoni uses a recipe now that he learned decades ago while working in Boston’s North End.

“You could have the most delicious meatballs, but if the sauce stinks, forget about it. They go hand in hand,” he said.

At Lucia’s Tavola in Brookline, chef and owner Lucia Wirzburger follows a traditional recipe using bread soaked in milk and lots of Parmesan and Romano cheese.

“People come in all of the time and tell me that they love my meatballs because they taste like the ones their Nonna made,” said Wirzburger.

At Café Mangia in Hooksett, chef and owner Angelo Bruno put spaghetti and meatballs on the menu because people wanted it. Bruno grew up on the Isle of Capri and at first resisted putting the popular American dish on his menu. But after repeated requests from customers, he changed his mind.

In his restaurant he follows his mother’s recipe except for one ingredient – pine nuts. It seems that Americans do not want their meatballs crunchy, so he skips it.

“We sell a lot of spaghetti and meatballs and a lot of meatballs as a side dish,” said Bruno.

Bruno is not alone. At Giorgio’s in Merrimack and Fratello’s in Manchester, meatballs fly out of the kitchens.

Dan St. Jean, chef at Giorgio’s, says that good meat and the right blend of herbs are what make a great meatball. “You don’t want them to be too strong because you don’t want them to take away from the sauce,” he said. St. Jean simmers fresh marinara every day for eight hours.

“Spaghetti and meatballs are comfort food, plain and simple. And that is what people want now,” he said.
Matthew Dell, chef at Fratello’s in Manchester, agrees. “Spaghetti and meatballs are all wrapped up in memories from our childhood,” he said.

Dell uses a mixture of ground beef, pork and chicken and serves with a fresh marinara when he makes meatballs at home; he uses a similar recipe in the restaurant.

“Plus, spaghetti and meatballs are so good with a nice glass of wine. Who could say no to that?” .

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  

Spaghetti and meatballs on the menu
Fratello’s Ristorante Italiano
155 Dow St., Manchester, 624-2022

Giorgio’s Trattoria
707 Milford Rd., Pennichuck Square, Merrimack, 883-7333

Lucia’s Tavola
181 Route 13, Brookline, 249-9134

Mangia Deli Cafe
114 Londonderry Tpk., Hooksett, 647-0788

Piccola Italia
827 Elm St., Manchester, 606-5100

Villa Banca
194 Main St., Nashua, 598-0500

Ya Mamma’s
75 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 578-9201

Meatballs and tomatoes
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Macella Hazan

One slice of good-quality white bread
1/3 cup of milk
1 pound ground beef, preferably chuck
1 tbsp. finely chopped onion
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 egg
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
salt
black pepper
fine, dry unflavored bread crumbs spread on a plate
vegetable oil
1 cup fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, chopped with juice)

Trim crust off bread and place in small saucepan with milk. Heat on low. When the bread had soaked up the milk, mash it to a pulp with a fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, combine chopped meat, onion, parsley, egg, olive oil, grated cheese, nutmeg, bread/milk, salt and several grindings of black pepper. Gently knead mixture with your hands without squeezing it. When combined, shape into one-inch balls. Roll balls in bread crumbs.

If possible, choose a sautee pan that will accommodate all of the meatballs in a single layer. Pour vegetable oil in pan so that it comes ¼ inch up side. Heat and when oil is hot, slip in the meatballs.

Brown meatballs by carefully turning so that they won’t break.

Remove from heat. Tip pan slightly and remove as much fat with a spoon as possible. Return pan to medium heat and add tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Carefully coat meatballs.

Cover pan and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes until oil separates from tomatoes.


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