Mario Batali: Secrets of a tender meatball

 Meatball secrets

Two keys to tender meatballs: the right proportions of breadcrumbs and meat, and cooking them in simmering sauce. Pictured: Polpette alla Napoletana in Basic Tomato Sauce. (David Gruber/TMS / January 30, 2013)

Q: Making meatballs for dinner. Should I fry, roast, or braise?

A: I prefer not to roast, fry or bake. Often, I don't brown my meatballs at all. Instead, I cook them directly in a bubbling sauce for about half an hour until they're soft and succulent.

The plague of the American meatball is a lack of understanding of the proper proportions of meat and non-meat. A really good meatball is about 50 percent meat and 50 percent breadcrumbs.

The true secret is day-old bread, soaked in milk or water, to bring lightness to the mixture. When you cook beef, pork or veal for too long, it starts to get tougher. But the bread in meatballs never gets tough. Use a lot of bread and your meatballs will be perfectly tender.

I like to combine the ingredients in a stand mixer and let the technology do the work. The meatball dough will seem wetter than you'd imagine. Allow it to sit for a few minutes and it will be just dry enough to work into spheres.

One of my favorite ways to use meatballs is in a submarine sandwich. Place a few meatballs between pieces of lightly browned bread and pile them with mozzarella, basil and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place it under the broiler for two minutes until the cheese is melted and just bubbling.

Meatballs are just as good the second day. Reheat them exactly as you cook them: in simmering tomato sauce.

Polpettine alla Napoletana (Meatballs)

Makes 12-15 meatballs.

4 cups basic tomato sauce

3 cups of 1/4-inch cubes of day old bread

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

3 eggs

3 garlic cloves

1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus more for serving

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (baked for 8 minutes in a 400 F oven)

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Parsley leaves, for garnish

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