Facts About Meatballs

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The classic combination of spaghetti and meatballs is an American standard.
The classic combination of spaghetti and meatballs is an American standard. (Image: Edster1980/iStock/Getty Images)

Some of the earliest recorded mentions of ground meat recipes came out of ancient Rome, according to reference librarian Lynne Olver, editor of the food history website Food Timeline. org. Meatballs evolved in family kitchens in Italy and around the world, with the first American recipe appearing in "Aunt Babette's Cook Book" in 1889. Like potato salad and barbecue, meatballs have as many variations as the number of people who make them, but some cooking techniques and flavors remain constant.

Some Ingredients Are Required

By definition, meatballs contain ground meat, whether all one kind or a combination that may include beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey; a binder to hold the ingredients together, such as bread crumbs and eggs; and herbs, seasonings or vegetables to add depths of flavor. Additional but optional elements might include toppings and sauces, such as tomato sauce, ketchup or cheese. In fact, meatballs are simply mini-meatloaves formed into small balls instead of one loaf.

Some Techniques Improve Meatballs

Certain cooking methods and ingredients boost the flavor and texture of meatballs. Laura Giannatempo, an editor at Fine Cooking magazine, suggests soaking stale bread in milk, squeezing it out and chopping it finely to give meatballs a tender and moist texture. Alison Roman, assistant food editor of Bon Appetit, notes that without herbs, meatballs are essentially just hamburgers, and that searing the meatballs to get a brown crust produces deep flavor.

Meatballs Exist Around the World

Meatballs include classic ingredients from the cuisines of the countries where they are made. In Italy, prosciutto and Parmesan cheese go into the mix, while in Middle Eastern countries, where meatballs are called kofta, the dish contains onions and spices such as cinnamon, cumin, mace and coriander. Swedish meatballs, rich with the flavor of onions, allspice and a dash of cloves, are typically made with a mixture of pork and beef and served in a white or brown cream sauce, often with a generous sprinkling of fresh dill.

Meatballs Go Beyond Spaghetti

**Meatballs appear in a variety of dishes," from sweet and sour stir-fries to meatball sub sandwiches. They work in soups ranging from a simple vegetable broth to a Spanish version spiced with chiles and seasoned with cumin. And small meatballs are the right size for party appetizers, perhaps with an Asian-inspired soy dipping sauce or a Turkish-style sauce made with yogurt and pomegranate molasses, as suggested at Epicurious.com.

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