During the 18 years I was a vegetarian, when asked the reason why, I would often tell the story of how my pet rabbit became Easter lunch. In fact, my re-telling of that story was rather disingenuous. As a child I was very cognizant of where food came from and how that particular wheel spun.
After spending most summers in the countryside, next to a working farm, I knew that cherries and figs were to be found on trees – which I climbed with impunity to steal – and that if my mother wanted a chicken for dinner, all she had to do was ask the farmer who would go in the yard and ring a bird’s neck. Maybe the same bird under whose butt I had personally retrieved the eggs from. I was nonplussed by the whole thing.
It is true the farmer let me look after a rabbit for a few days, probably already knowing that rabbit would end up in a pot with black olives and, if I was upset, I was not traumatized. While still battling with the ethics of eating meat to this day – I have gone back to eating it partly because it makes it easier to stay healthy, although I consume it infrequently – I never craved meat to begin with.
As a toddler, I tested my mother’s patience and creativity by refusing meat but she persevered and, for years, it had to be disguised in the form of chicken soup, mashed potatoes blended with beef and meatballs with marinara sauce and peas. I always liked those. To this day, my mom’s version of them is still my favorite and a comfort staple when I need one.
Her meatballs often contain mortadella, in addition to beef, veal and pork (or as a substitute for pork) but, because it’s hard to find good mortadella in LA and veal is horribly expensive, my version only features beef and pork. Often, she also adds bechamel sauce – instead of milk – to keep them moist but that is a bit of an over achieving step, especially if I am making just a weekday meal (although the interior of the meatballs will be deliciously creamy).
When my step-son came for dinner a few nights a go, that’s what I decided I would make for him. He might be all of 24 and an adventurous eater but I know some childhood dishes always make for some of the best dinners.
RECIPE – yields 12/14 rather large meatballs
3/4 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
3/4 C Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 C fine bread crumbs
1/2 C milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
Your favorite marinara sauce
1 C Frozen peas
- In a large bowl, mix the ground meats with your hands. Add the egg, parmesan, salt and pepper and mix until well amalgamated.
- Add the bread crumbs. Mix lightly and start pouring the milk into the mixture, a bit at a time. You might not need all of the milk. You want to end up with a moist mixture that holds its shape.
- Form the meatballs into 3 cm (1/1/2 to 2”) in diameter.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan and, when hot, cook the meatballs on medium heat, turning them every few minutes, so that all sides get browned and they are cooked through. Don’t crowd the pan and fry in batches if necessary.
- Place the meatballs on a paper lined plate and set aside.
- Heat the marinara in a saucepan and add the peas. Cook for a few minutes until tender. Add the meatballs and cook for a few more minutes until heated through. Serve immediately.
Strictly speaking, Italians don’t eat their polpette with pasta and I would advise you don’t suggest it when ordering food in Italy – they will think you are mad. But wherever else you are – go ahead, I won’t tell.