Two meatballs stand out in my memory of eating that famous American-Italian dish. (It surprises many American travelers that meatballs are rarely seen in Italy.) The first was the gigantic, ultra-light “diamond-studded” meatballs created by Diamond Jim Moran at the old La Louisiane. (He actually used to put diamonds in them for very special customers.) The other great meatballs were the ordinary-looking ones that Chef Goffredo Fraccaro made at his now-gone La Riviera. They were famously crusty and delicious.
The sad part of this tale is that neither meatball is being made anymore. So we must do them ourselves, or at least try. This recipe makes a meatball with the incomparable lightness of Moran’s, and the crusty meatiness of Goffredo’s. Here are the tricks:
1. Use soaked bread instead of breadcrumbs.
2. Use a bit of ground pork with the ground beef.
3. Beat the eggs to a near-froth.
4. Handle the meatballs as little as possible.
Get a pot of smooth red sauce ready before you start, because that’s where these will go at the end of the process to finish cooking.
- 2 lbs. ground meat, consisting of up to 1 lb. ground pork (you can use less if you like, or none) and the rest ground round
- 1 four-inch piece stale French bread, crusts cut away
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 12 sprigs parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 2 eggs
- Vegetable oil for frying
1. Break the ground meat up into a bowl and toss with fingers dripping with cold water to blend the two kinds.
2. Break the bread up into small pieces, and mix into 1/4 cup cold water with a fork until it has the texture of mashed potatoes. Add this to the meat, along with all the other ingredients except the eggs and oil. Again, wet your hands with cold water and toss the ingredients loosely to distribute them evenly.
3. With a wire whisk or blender (an immersion blender works very well), beat the eggs into a fine froth. Pour this evenly into the meat mixture.
4. Wet your hands again with cold water and caress the mixture into balls two to two and half inches in diameter. Handle the meatballs as gently as possible, compacting them just enough to make them stick together. Don’t worry is there are cracks as fissures, as long as they’re not about to break wide open.
5. Heat the oil about a quarter-inch deep in a skillet over medium-high heat. Put in enough meatballs to allow them to be rolled around easily. Roll them around every minute or so to brown them evenly. This will take ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the size of the meatballs.
6. When the meatballs are browned, remove from the pan and place into a pot of simmering tomato sauce. Cook for at least ten minutes, until no pink is left in the center.
Remove the meatballs from the sauce. Put cooked pasta into a bowl and pour the sauce over it. Toss to coat the pasta completely. Serve with a meatball on the top or size. (One of these is enough.)
Makes eight to twelve meatballs.