Some cooks swear that the only real way to cook a meatball is to brown it first, then simmer it in a thick, rich tomato sauce, so that the sauce and meatballs blend and flavor each other.
When I eat spaghetti and meatballs, I want to taste the sauce, and I want to taste the meatballs. I want the meatballs moist, tender and distinctive. Likewise, I want my sauce to be an assertive companion, shining with its own unique character. When I taste them together, in one bite, that bite should explode in my mouth like two happy people falling in love at first sight. But separately, I enjoy them as if they were two individual but compatible friends.
I mean no disrespect to those cooks who simmer their meatballs and sauce jointly, because this method can be delicious in its own right—and many Italian families have probably left the room after reading my second paragraph. But there is a method to my madness, which goes like this...
Part of creating a sumptuous dish lies in the ability to balance flavors. Every recipe—and indeed every meal's menu—succeeds depending on how the flavor elements are experienced. Think of the key ingredients as elements positioned on a landscape. Are they up front, smack dab in the foreground? Or are they recessed but still noticeable in the background? Do they set the abstract mood of the landscape, subtly floating as an undertone? Perhaps they are small but intense, like streaks of light and shining accents.
When I make spaghetti and meatballs, the pasta is the canvas, the sauce the background, and the meatballs the focal point. Yet, the sauce and meatballs contain distinctly different ingredients that serve as the undertone, linking the two in subtle ways. Two final touches, a pat of sweet butter and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, are the shining accents.
Normally, I'm a strong proponent of browning foods, especially meats, to caramelize the sugars and enrich the flavors. But in this case, I prefer to simmer the meatballs in chicken broth, no browning first. The meatballs stay moister and the flavors are softer throughout—it's like the difference between poached salmon and grilled salmon.
The recipes below include Meatballs Simmered in Broth, which you can serve with your favorite spaghetti sauce. Save the cooking broth and half the meatballs to make a quick, hearty and satisfying Chicken-Vegetable Soup with Meatballs. Of course, you can simmer your own personal recipe for meatballs in broth instead of browning them. And for the soup, vary it by adding whatever vegetables are in season, along with different beans, pasta, and herbs. These are basic recipes that yearn for you, as Sinatra would have said, to do them your way.
Kate's Global Kitchen for September, 2000:
This page created September 2000
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