I must be one of the few Americans who didn’t grow up eating home-cooked spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. I do fondly remember, however, the chic sweet-and-sour meatballs my mother served at parties. I hadn’t thought about them for years until I recently picked up a copy of the fun, little cookbook, “i love meatballs!“ by Rick Rodgers (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011). Now I’m not only thinking about meatballs, I’m serving them for dinner.
Rodgers apparently did a lot of thinking about meatballs too, and offers recipes for meatballs hors d’oeuvres, meatballs in soups, meatball sandwiches, meatballs covered in sauce and sitting on top of spaghetti. He deep-fries meatballs, he bakes them, he cooks them on the grill, steams and braises them. Balls made of fish qualify here as “meatballs” too, as do tweaked matzo balls (made of ground chicken and filled out with matzo meal). Rodgers looked to faraway lands for inspiration — from Vietnam to Morocco and, of course, to Sweden — and compiled 50 recipes.
Meatball tips and tricks
This is a book for meatball lovers, but it’s also a great book for someone who never paid them much mind. Thanks to Rodgers, I’ve experienced the calm joy of rolling out ball after ball of ground meat. (Most readers probably know the trick he shares of rinsing hands in cold water between batches, but novices may not. The book is filled with such handy tips.)
I’ll refer to “i love meatballs” when I’m planning parties and scrambling for weeknight meals. Another bonus: Rodgers shares tips for freezing meatballs in or out of sauce. His turkey-sage meatballs, included in the recipe for turkey meatball subs with cranberry-chipotle mayonnaise, will find a place next to the frozen peas in my freezer (though I don’t think I’ll be making the flavored mayonnaise again).
The concept might seem a bit goofy, but the recipes are honest and far from wacky. Spanish meatball tapas with sherry-garlic sauce, Chinese shrimp ball soup and German meatballs in caper sauce, are all takes on classic dishes. Even the chafing dish meatballs, which Rodgers includes in the book, doused in a sauce made with grape jelly and bottled chili sauce, are a traditional American party dish. They’re so well loved, he says, he just had to include them.
Curry and pomegranate sauces
Most meatballs start out with ground meat, bread crumbs, egg and spices, but Rodgers gives us lots of variety in the sauces. We have green curry to pair with lamb; a pomegranate and walnut sauce for a Persian dish; a good Bolognese and more. He even lists sauces that can spruce up store-bought frozen meatballs. But after reading this book, I can’t imagine buying industrial meatballs ever again.
Though I don’t have a spaghetti and meatball recipe that brings my childhood rushing back to me, I’ve found a version in this book, checkered tablecloth spaghetti and meatballs, that I hope will remind my children of home when they’re older. Rodgers describes it as a composite “of what I’ve learned about spaghetti and meatballs from the various Italian grandmothers in my life.” If it’s good enough for this master of the meatball, it’s good enough for us.
Photo: “i love meatballs!” cover. Credit: Christy Hobart