Fear Conquered: Let me be a Meatball
I want to be a meatball.
It all started three years ago. I was working for a large corporation and exercising my first taste of authority. Angie, the much more seasoned project manager assigned to my team, was skillful at leveraging my eagerness to lead.
"What do you think about getting the team together for a few hours on Saturday to really try and knock out this project?" Angie asks. "We're really approaching that deadline fast and I just don't see hours available during the week."
Inside, I cringe. Because I know Angie is right. We really do need to knock out the project. And there just aren't enough hours in the work week. So I glance around the table. Poker faces. Silent, grim poker faces.
I can feel the crushing weight of leadership. And the dark realization that I'm now the man. Nobody - not even me - is going to volunteer to give up a Saturday. And it won't be Angie who makes it happen. I sigh. I rub my face. I stare up at my laptop calendar. At that deadline. I am the man.
"Angie's right," I say. And I try to sound gentle but firm at the same time. Because I don't want to be the man. But I am supposed to be the team lead. The one who takes initiative and keeps the ball rolling. "Let's plan to meet on Saturday and wrap this up."
Poker faces all around, but there's a collective shuffling and squeaking of chairs. Feeling guilty of my crime, I try to cheer them up. "I'll bring in breakfast," I say. "Does everyone like bagels?" Blank, wordless stares. Like bagels will somehow absolve me from forcing work on a Saturday.
The much more seasoned Angie is ready. "I'll bring in my Swedish meatballs," she says. "It's not much, but it's the one thing I know how to make."
Poker faces suddenly melt all around the table and little smiles emerge. Followed by cheerful nodding of heads. Angie smiles at me knowingly - and moments later, we all agree on hours for Saturday. Because really, if there's meatballs involved, how terrible can it be?
Turns out, it wasn't terrible. The team was in good spirits, we knocked out the project and no one muttered a word about working on a Saturday. I'd like to attribute everyone's positive attitude to my flawless leadership - but little styrofoam plates of warm meatballs accomplished more than I ever could.
The truth is, I wish I could be a meatball. They're nothing to look at - round and dull and often misshaped. But they're packed with flavor and seasoning. Meatballs are never trendy and fashionable - and the humble and unpretentious mix of ingredients doesn't try to be. Meatballs are never fussy or demanding and they rarely overwhelm or dazzle. Yet a meatball is more comforting than all the fussy and pretentious food on the planet. A meatball never fails to comfort and cheer. Because if there's meatballs, how bad can it really be?
I can learn so much from a simple meatball. To strive not to vainly obsess over my appearance. To stop being fussy, demanding and overbearing. To stop seeking fame and spotlight. To instead be humble and unpretentious. To be perfectly seasoned with the right attitude and words. To be ready to bring cheer to those who need it. And above all, to always be filled with comfort and love.
In short, let me be a meatball.
|You will need 1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs. I used my food processor to easily grind chunks of bread into crumbs.|
|Measure 1/2 cup of homemade vegetable stock (or chicken stock).|
|Add the breadcrumbs to the stock and let the crumbs absorb the stock for at least 5 minutes.|
|You will need 7 ounces (approx 1 cup) of freshly grated parmesan cheese. I use my food processor to easily grind the cheese. Reserve 1/2 cup of the ground parmesan for finishing the meatballs at the end.|
|Finely dice 1 medium yellow onion.|
|Mince or press 2 garlic cloves.|
|Chop 1 large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley.|
|Grind or crush 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds.|
|Mix all of the ingredients together with a fork until well combined. This takes about 3-5 minutes of mixing.|
|Form 20x 2-inch diameter meatballs between your palms and space on a baking sheet. Refrigerate the meatballs for at least 1 hour before frying.|
|To fry the meatballs, add 3/4 cup of olive oil to a large saute pan over medium heat.|
|Add up to 10 chilled meatballs to the hot oil (watch out for splashes) and cook the meatballs for 15 minutes.|
|Turn the meatballs every 5 minutes.|
|Transfer the meatballs to a plate and repeat frying the remaining 10 meatballs if desired.|
|After removing the last of the meatballs from the pan, drain out the olive oil.|
|Add 3 cups of homemade marinara sauce to the pan. If you are only making a half batch (10 meatballs), you will need 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce.|
|Return the meatballs to the pan and turn them in the sauce.|
|Cover the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes, turning the meatballs halfway through the cook time.|
|Serve the meatballs over pasta with a sprinkle of the reserved parmesan cheese.|
Homemade Meatballs with Marinara
Prep Time: 1.5 hrs
Cook Time: 45 min
Ingredients (makes 20 meatballs)
- 1/2 cup homemade vegetable stock
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 7 ounces (1 cup) grated parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1 large egg
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed or ground
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 3/4 cup olive oil, reserved
- 3 cups homemade marinara sauce, reserved
- In a small bowl or measure, combine the vegetable stock and breadcrumbs; let the breadcrumbs soak for a few minutes
- In a large bowl, gently combine all the ingredients with a fork until well mixed (excluding the reserved olive oil, marinara sauce and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese)
- Form 20x 2-inch diameter meatballs and arrange on a baking sheet; chill the meatballs in the refrigerator for 1 hour
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add 10 chilled meatballs to the hot oil and fry for 15 minutes, turning the meatballs every 5 minutes; transfer the meatballs to a heat-safe plate and repeat with the remaining 10 meatballs
- Drain the oil from the pan and add the marinara sauce and meatballs back to the pan; cover the pan and simmer the meatballs for 10 minutes, turning the meatballs once
- Serve the meatballs over spaghetti pasta with a sprinkle of the reserved parmesan cheese
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Hungry for Tips?
- Freeze: I like to make these meatballs in advance and freeze them for a quick dinner later. To freeze the meatballs, instead of chilling in the refrigerator for Step 3, freeze the meatballs on the baking sheet for at least 4 hours. Transfer the frozen meatballs to a sealable freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 2 months.
- Chill: No matter how lean your beef, there's still some fat - and the fat helps to keep the meat from drying out while it cooks. And the best way to keep the fat from rushing out from the meatballs is to chill the meatballs before frying. However, if you're in a rush, you can skip the chill step and settle for less-moist meatballs.
- Breadcrumbs: The classic technique for meatballs is to soak torn bread in milk before adding it to the meat mixture. The soaked bread helps to keep the meatballs soft and moist. I use homemade vegetable stock instead of milk because I think it adds depth of flavor - but the technique and purpose of the soaked bread remains the same.
- Pork vs. Sausage: Adding sausage to meatballs is absolutely delicious - but it's also extremely greasy. So instead of pork sausage, I add a little ground pork and fennel seed to mimic the flavor and capture a little extra moistness from the pork. The result is great flavor and texture, but less of the grease.
- Cloves: Ground cloves may sound like an odd spice for meatballs, but it's job is really to bring out the flavor of the beef. In fact, I add cloves to hamburger patties, meat loaf and roasts - just about anything where I want to enhance the meat flavor. You won't be able to pick out the flavor of cloves - but everything will just taste a little better.
- Pasta: If serving the meatballs over pasta, I recommend cooking the pasta while the meatballs are simmering in the sauce. After draining, add the al-dente pasta to the sauce and meatballs and toss everything together to thoroughly coat the pasta. After tossing, allow the pasta to rest in sauce for 2-3 minutes, then serve with a sprinkle of parmesan.