Sometimes there's a disconnect between the proclamations of food gurus and what regular folks eat. Not so in the case of meatballs. Once labeled "dish of the year" by Bon Appetit magazine, meatballs are welcome everywhere.
They were the unexpected star of the buffet table at a holiday party I attended with 40 other guys. There sat six -- six! -- casseroles filled with meatballs, most of which were ground beef in tomato sauce. And nearly every ball was gone by the end of the night.
"Meatballs are the ultimate cure-all for anything that ails you," write Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow in "The Meatball Shop Cookbook" (Ballantine, $28). Though these New York City restaurateurs are thinking "hangover, breakup, lack of sleep, even a crying baby," you should think meatballs for your next party feast.
You can, of course, serve up that traditional ground beef meatball and float it in a pool of tomato sauce. Or jazz up your game plan by experimenting with meats, flavors and presentations.
Nearly every culture has a meatball, as Rick Rodgers, author of the new cookbook, "I Love Meatballs!" (Andrews McMeel, $19.99), makes clear. His 55 recipes range around the world, from Tuscan olive-stuffed rounds to Thai pork and shrimp balls to a Texas meatball chili soup.
"Every cuisine has them because they're economical and easy to make," says Rodgers. "They also just taste great. You can make them ahead, warm them up, and they just get better."
> Meatballs 101
Tips to making and serving meatballs from "The Meatball Shop Cookbook" by Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow with Lauren Deen.
Serving sizes and saucing: "The Meatball Shop's" standard serving is four 1 1/2 -inch balls. Count on 1/4 cup sauce for each 1 1/2 -inch ball. Serving pasta? "Add cooked pasta right into the pan to soak up the sauce and flavor," the authors suggest.
Make ahead: Meatballs can be made a day in advance and baked up to 24 hours later. Or, bake immediately and refrigerate for up to three days before reheating.
Storage: Refrigerate with or without sauce, for up to three days. Freeze, with or without sauce, for up to three months.
Reheating: Microwave 4 minutes, 6 minutes if frozen. Bake, covered, in a 300-degree oven, 20 minutes. Cook on the stove top, covered, with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water over medium heat, 10 minutes.
> Spicy Pork Meatballs
2 pounds pork shoulder, ground
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
4 jarred hot cherry peppers, minced
1/4 cup hot cherry pepper pickling liquid
4 slices fresh white bread, finely chopped
3 large eggs
Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix pork, salt, cherry peppers, pickling liquid, bread and eggs by hand until thoroughly incorporated.
Roll into golf ball-sized meatballs, packing the meat firmly. Place the balls in a lightly oiled 9-by-13-inch baking dish touching one another.
Bake until firm and cooked through, 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.
Serve on a baguette as a sub, or plate on a bed of creamy polenta; spoon on a spicy meat sauce. Makes 24 meatballs.
-- From "The Meatball Shop Cookbook"
> Greek Minted Meatballs (Keftedes)
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound each: ground beef round, ground lamb shoulder
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Combine the breadcrumbs and 1 cup half-and-half in a small bowl; let soak, 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet over moderate heat. Add onions and garlic; cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; add the soaked bread crumbs plus the meats. Mix with hands until well-blended. Add the remaining 1/2 cup half-and-half, eggs, cinnamon, half of the mint, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Form into 1-inch balls.
Bake on foil-lined rimmed baking sheets until slightly brown, 20-25 minutes; serve topped with the remaining mint.
Makes 6 to 8 servings, about 70 meatballs.
-- From James Villas' "From the Ground Up: Hundreds of Amazing Recipes From Around the World for Ground Meats" (Wiley, $22.99)
> Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs
1 pound ground chicken
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 large egg, beaten
1 green onion, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 piece (1-inch long) ginger, peeled, shredded
1 tablespoon Japanese-style soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 quarter-size pieces fresh ginger, crushed
2/3 cup each: Japanese-style soy sauce, mirin
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 green onions, minced
For the meatballs, mix chicken, panko, egg, green onion, cornstarch, shredded ginger, soy sauce, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Cover; refrigerate at least 15 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Heat a large saucepan of water and the sliced ginger to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer.
Using wet hands rinsed under cold water, shape the chicken mixture into 20 meatballs, about 1 1/2 inches each. Carefully add to the saucepan. Simmer until cooked through, about 6 minutes.
For the teriyaki sauce, heat the soy sauce, mirin, sugar and rice vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Boil until thickened and reduced to about 2/3 cup, 5 minutes.
Remove balls from cooking liquid; drain. Serve over rice, drizzle with the sauce and garnished with green onions. Makes 20 meatballs.
-- From "I Love Meatballs!" (Andrews McMeel, $19.99), by Rick Rodgers