All the world's a meatball Tasty spheres are found all over the globe

October 23, 1991|By William Rice | William Rice,Chicago Tribune

ENOUGH OF THIS nostalgia for meatloaf, with or without mashed potatoes and gravy!

Despite the long history of French pates and terrines -- myriad elaborations on the theme of ground meat in a loaf form -- meatloaf is a relatively recent addition to the American culinary repertory, as James Beard points out in his "American Cooking."

A century ago, Heartlanders weren't feasting on grandma's meatloaf (or medium-rare hamburgers, for that matter). But they did dote on meatballs, as some of us do still.

Frankly, meatballs had a much greater influence on my gastronomic education than did meatloaf.

My first awakening to the wonders of the wide world of ethnic eating came from a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. As a teen-ager, sophistication was being allowed to spear Swedish meatballs with a toothpick while the adults indulged in their cocktail-party ritual.

Where do you find meatballs? Where don't you? might be an easier question. Shaped ground meat -- firm or fluffy, spicy or subtle -- can be found in the Middle East or the middle of the Orient, in deepest Russia or Latin America.

Despite the similarities among recipes, they're never quite the same from one nation or region to another. Also, unless tortured on the rack of a steam table for hours, they're rarely bad.

Trendmongers whisper that a renaissance of Italian-American food has begun. If so, the meatball is sure to be in the spotlight again. Until that moment comes, chew on these.

These home-style meatballs, shown in our photo, can be made from ground beef, but for extra pizazz include ground veal and pork as well.

Home-Style Meatballs

1 1/4 pounds ground meat

1 large egg

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 cup shredded cabbage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon hot paprika or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped peeled and seeded plum tomatoes

1/2 cup dry red wine or beef broth

In a mixing bowl, combine meat, egg and breadcrumbs. Do not overmix.

In a skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Add onion and cabbage. Cook and stir until softened, five to seven minutes. Let cool for two to three minutes. Add onion and cabbage to meat, along with pepper, hot paprika, salt, oregano and parmesan.

Shape meat into large, round meatballs, each about two-inches in diameter.

Brown meat in the skillet, turning to color all sides. Remove meat and drain excess fat from the skillet. Add tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil and simmer briskly for five minutes.

Add meatballs, cover skillet, reduce heat to low and simmer meat in sauce for about 10 minutes, or until fully cooked. Serve with spaghetti. Serves four.

Meatballs Smyrna

1 pound lean lamb or beef, ground twice

3 slices white bread, trimmed of crusts, soaked in water, squeezed dry and crumbled

1 egg, beaten

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter, or 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 green pepper, seeded, deribbed and chopped

Combine the meat, bread, egg, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, salt and pepper in a deep bowl. Knead well until thoroughly blended and smooth. With hands moistened in water, shape the mixture into about 24 flat round patties about two-inches in diameter or form into egg-shaped ovals. Roll lightly in the flour.

In a heavy skillet, heat the butter over moderate heat. Add the meatballs and saute until evenly browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the tomatoes, green pepper, salt and pepper to taste and water to the skillet. Cover and cook over low heat 15 minutes.

(If you wish, remove the cover and boil the sauce for five 5 minutes to reduce and thicken.) Return the meatballs to the skillet and cook 15 minutes. Serve over spaghetti, egg noodles or rice.

Oriental Pork and Crab Appetizer

3/4 pound lean ground pork

1/3 pound crabmeat, picked over

1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce

1/4 cup minced green onion

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Vegetable oil for shallow frying

In a bowl, combine pork, crabmeat, tamari, minced onions, minced ginger and hot-pepper sauce. Mix well, then form into bite-size meatballs. (This may be done several hours ahead. Cover balls tightly and refrigerate until 15 minutes before cooking.)

Pour oil into a skillet to a depth of one-inch and place over medium heat. When oil is hot (about 375 degrees), add meatballs. Fry and turn until well browned.

Drain on paper towels and serve hot or keep for a few minutes in a warm oven. Serve with toothpicks. (If desired, offer a dip of four parts rice vinegar to one part sesame oil.) Good as an hors d'oeuvre with sparkling wine. Makes about 25 meatballs.

Leek Meatballs

2 pounds leek (to yield 4 cups)


1 pound ground beef

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