Meatball Mania

April 17, 2016

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What made me do it?  Not quite sure.  I know better than to think turkey meatballs are going to be great.

Yesterday, as I was working on the memoir about the Gourmet years, I came across this recipe we printed in the TV issue in 2004. Lydia Bastianich came into our kitchens at 4 Times Square, to demonstrate the dish. I didn’t really remember it, but now, intrigued by the inclusion of pine nuts and golden raisins, I decided to make it.

Here’s the recipe:

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Let me begin by saying that the start to finish time is a lie.  There’s no way you can do this in an hour.  The truth is, we often fudged the timing on recipes; if we told you that it was going to take two hours, would you really embark on the project?

Let me also say that it’s a rare Gourmet recipe that lets you down. And in all honesty, I liked the ragu quite a lot: it is full of flavor, and thin enough to allow the pasta to inhale the sauce, soaking it up until it is literally part of the pasta. But the meatballs….  I wouldn’t make them again.

When I make meatballs, I want airy spheres that evaporate beneath your teeth, whispering lemon, sighing parmesan, each bite leaving an echo in its wake.  A simple sauce that sings tomato. A dish that rewards your effort by arriving at the table wreathed in joy, eager to make everybody happy.  

What I want are the meatballs that Maggie Ruggiero developed for what would turn out to be one of Gourmet’s final issue. At the first tasting I said “Why don’t you add a little lemon zest?”

“You always say that,” Maggie replied.

In this case, I was right. This is a recipe that is worth your time.


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  • Mary Dempsey says:

    Is the start to finish time in Maggie Ruggiero’s recipe a lie?

  • Carissa says:

    The late humorist Erma Bombeck was suspicious of cookbooks, because many intricate recipes claimed a ridiculously low preparation time. “I have always felt cookbooks were fiction and the most beautiful words in the English language were ‘room service,'” she wrote.

  • admin says:

    Mary: If you are a kitchen wizard you can probably make all 70 of Maggie’s meatballs in two hours. For the rest of us, it’s probably more like three. What is completely true is how many people this recipe will feed, so you have to take that into consideration.

  • Lissa says:

    I have used Nancy Verdi Barr’s meatball recipe from “We Called it Macaroni” for probably 20 years. I am not Italian and don’t have a drop of Italian blood, so am no authority. Lots of eggs making tender meatballs. Delicious!

  • irma williams says:

    Always loved Gourmet as fiction. Loved travel pix and dishes from afar. When a recipe had 3 lists of 10 ingredients each and the prep continued to page 32…wasn’t going to happen in my kitchen. Smiles….

  • orcagna says:

    Try making something like this with either swordfish or tuna (in a pinch salmon would do, though that’s definitely not original) – leave out the raisins, but add some capers to the sauce. It’s a recipe from Sicily, and I had the loveliest version of it in a hole-in-the-wall in Palermo some time ago. The lemon zest wouldn’t come amiss here either.