Christopher Boswell and the Essential Meatball

BoswellBits of cheese, sprigs of parsley, egg, and meatballs… not everything at the Maker Faire is made of metal and plastic.

For an edible Maker experience, look no further than Sunday’s cooking demonstration by Christopher Boswell. Before becoming chef of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, he attended the California Culinary Academy, then trained under Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. He is the author of three RSFP cookbooks: Pasta, Verdure, and Zuppe.

Chris’ newest venture is opening the Good Hope Meatball shop, and at the Faire, he’ll make a meatball recipe from a mixture of beef and pork bound with bread, egg, and cheese. Here Chris shares with us his thoughts on cooking and food:

What makes a good meatball?

What makes a good Italian meatball is the tenderness, which comes both from the bread & the cooking time. The cooking secret is also to simmer them gently not boil them rapidly.

Do different cultures have different meatball traditions?

The idea of the meatball is found all over the world. Whether it’s a Bahn Mi meatball, a Matzoh ball, a kefta, or dishes from many other cultures, they are all from cucina povera,or food of the poor. In fact, many of the techniques like adding bread or simmering in broth are designed to feed a good amount of people with a little bit of food.

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Did your approach to cooking change while working at the Rome Sustainable Food Project? Do you have many chances to teach people about food?

My favorite food to cook and eat is Italian food, but having a chance to live for 8 years in Rome had a huge influence on how I approach both eating (because my love for cooking is really second to my love for eating) and cooking.

The Roman palate is very complicated. You have flavors that are very very decisive yet the dishes are light for the most part. They have a way of even taking what would seem like a very heavy dish and preparing it in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re in a food coma afterwards.

Italians in general also eat tons of greens, beans, grains, and vegetables, so I loved eating lots of those along w/ pasta to fill your belly, wonderful cheeses, and a little bit of meat.

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Meatballs are originally a food of the poor because they were made with mostly stale bread soaked in milk with the addition of any meat scraps on hand. Today, meatballs in Italy still contain lots of bread – and are thus quite light. In fact, our meatballs are made with equal parts bread and meat.

Meatballs can be made in several different ways, with or without tomato sauce. They can be browned in a pan, deep fried, first pan fried or directly simmered in tomato sauce. If they are made in the sauce, the tomato sauce is used for the pasta as the primo, and the meatballs are served as the secondo. We like to serve the meatballs this way at the RSFP: the spaghetti gets tossed in the tomato sauce and the meatballs themselves get served as the secondo. Feel free to top the spaghetti with the meatballs or serve them on the side as a second course.

This recipe works best with bread that is at least 2 to 3 days old – but day old bread will work. Using stale bread that has been rehydrated allows it to crumble and become flaky.

10 oz day old rustic country bread, crust removed and cut into 1­inch (TK cm) cubes 2 cups whole milk

1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

20 parsley sprigs, picked and chopped (about 6 tablespoons) 1/2 garlic clove, pounded

2 oz Grana Padano, grated (about 3/4 cup) 1 egg

Put the bread and the milk in a large bowl so that the bread is fully submerged in milk and soak it for 45 minutes.

Season the ground meat with salt and pepper. Add the hot pepper, oregano, parsley, garlic, Grana Padano, and egg to the meat and mix thoroughly using your hands and set it aside until the soaked bread is ready to use.

Squeeze the milk out of the bread and discard the liquid. Crumble the soaked bread using your thumb and forefingers into the ground meat mixture. Knead the bread and meat mixture. Once the impasto comes together, knead it a few more times as if you were kneading fresh pasta.

Form the mix into small balls, about the size of a golf ball.

Put the olive oil in a 14­inch (TK cm) high­sided sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, gently fry the meatballs for 3 or 4 minutes on one side, or until they are golden brown. Carefully turn the meatballs over using a small spatula or spoon and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is golden, then remove and discard it.

When the meatballs are golden brown, add the tomato puree, basil, and hot pepper flakes, and cook, covered with a lid for 50 minutes, or until the meatballs are very tender.

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