Tuesday, October 14, 2008


There's something about meatballs. If you grew up in an Italian family or an Italian neighborhood (I did both), you know that there's more to meatballs than just your average comfort food. They say that bread is the staff of life; Italians think it's meatballs. They define a meal, a family, a discussion, a culture. Italians recognize their own families' meatballs like Scots recognize their families' tartans.

My own earliest meatball memories surround my great-grandmother, Nana. Born Tessie Cerami, she and her sister Josie came over on a boat from Sicily, at ages 16 and 14, through Ellis Island and made their way to Ossining, NY, where they married two brothers and lived next door to each other until their deaths, some 70 years later. Nana was the stereotypical Italian grandmother, from her clunky black shoes and wrinkly nylons to the crucifixes, visible from every vantage point in her house. Nana always had a pot of tomato sauce, filled with meatballs, simmering on the stove. Family lore said it was the same pot she put there circa 1940; she just kept adding more sauce and more meatballs. And she always had a meatball sandwich in her purse; it was the cure-all for whatever ailed you. Scrape your knee - have a meat-a-ball-a-sand-a-wich; break up with your boyfriend - have a meat-a-ball-a-sand-a-wich. As she got older, it was harder to trust the sandwich-from-the-purse, not knowing if it had been made that morning, or three weeks prior.
Nana served wine, though I can't tell you what it was. All I can say is it was red, and served in teeny-tiny glasses. I serve red wine with meatballs today, but in much larger glasses. If you've read my blog, you know that I like serving regional food with regional wines. This holds true for Italy, more than any other region. I could go into a long wine-geeky dissertation on why this is so, but here's what it boils down to: the high-acid in many Italian reds stands up to tomato sauce like no other wine can. Would I recommend sitting on the porch and sipping a nice Chianti as an apperitif? No. But with meatballs, pizza, eggplant parmesan - you bet. Chianti is in the Toscana region; Chianti Classico is a smaller region within Chianti, in theory, producing higher quality wines. Here are a few reliable producers of Chianti that you may want to try: Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, Badia a Coltibuono, Ruffino, Banfi, Folonari, Rocca delle Macie. Most produce wines in a variey of price ranges.
"Mangia!" As Nana would say.


bluesolara said...

You've really put me in the mood for meatballs. Have to grind up some of my pricey grass fed beef though, and it won't taste as good as the old fatty ground chuck from Grand Union, but I will add a touch of olive oil to the meat for flavor and fat. Wish you could come for dinner.

Tree said...

My Italian father is mortified that I make turkey meatballs..Gawd!
great entry, got to go- I am hungry