I have numerous guilty pleasures in this world. Every girl must have a few, right? Most of them are food related but one of them is…I’m almost too embarrassed to admit…Bravo TV. I religiously watch The Real Housewives of Every City. It’s like watching a very well dressed train wreck. Impossible to stop once you start. Consider yourself warned! The Real Housewives of New Jersey may be out of control crazy but boy can they cook! Almost every episode someone is making some good old-fashioned Italian food, so I decided to try my hand at heritage Italian Meatballs in honor of the RHONJ.
I found this heritage Italian Meatball recipe in One Big Table, which is a compilation of old-fashioned American recipes by Molly O’Neill. It is the Camparetti family’s recipe from New York City, and just like the RHONJ, it is crazy good!
Just like any good Italian recipe, there is still some room for interpretation so that no one can duplicate it precisely. Sometimes I wish I were at least partially Italian, so that I could have learned the secrets from my Grandmother even if that heritage comes with a side of crazy!
These Italian Meatballs are not a quick fix, but their balance of flavors and texture are well worth the effort. Next time I will double the recipe and freeze the leftovers. Serve with my Homemade Tomato Sauce. Perfecto!
2 ½ lbs mixed ground beef, veal, and pork [I used 1lb, ¾ lb, ¾ lb respectively]
1 to 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup chopped fresh basil
½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon garlic powder
[1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt – I left this out. You salt to your taste]
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper [why does this smell so strange? Seriously?]
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning [I made my own. Recipe here]
½ teaspoon tomato paste
¼ cup grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
To Make the Bread Crumbs
In a food processor, pulse the bread until medium-fine crumbs form. In a large skillet over medium, melt the butter. Add the shallot and garlic and cook about 1 minutes until aromatic. Stir in the breadcrumbs, oregano, salt and cayenne and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to come to room temperature.
Add milk to bread crumbs 1 tablespoon at a time at 1-minute intervals, until the crumbs are soft but not soupy. Comparetti says, “The mixture should be the consistency of thick Cream of Wheat”.
Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. I just used the breadcrumb skillet. Add the onion and cook about 4 minutes until soft. Cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, break up the meat with a spoon. Put the onion, 1 of the eggs, and the basil in the center of the meat and gently incorporate. Add the fennel, garlic powder, adobo seasoning, tomato paste, salt, and peppers to the meat and mix gently.
Gently add the cheese and the breadcrumb mixture, adding crumbs only as needed until it is cohesive and smooth. You may not need all the breadcrumbs. I didn’t need even half! If you have added all the breadcrumbs and the mixture is still crumbly or loose, add the extra egg.
Cover the bowl and let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
With wet hands, form the meat into 2-inch balls. Mine were a more manageable 1-inch.
Heat the remaining ½ cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the meatballs and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, turning until brown on all sides. Transfer the browned meatballs to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.
Bake the meatballs about 25 minutes, until they are no longer pink on the inside.
I transferred them to a paper towel lined dish and blotted them to remove excess oil.