Today we honor a 1979 Ivan Reitman comedy starring Bill Murray as head counselor of a summer camp! Wait…that doesn’t sound right…
Ahh. Meatballs, not Meatballs. March 9th is National Meatball Day! And the first food holiday we’ve celebrated in some time.
The exact history behind the invention of the meatball is unknown, but because meat was scarce and expensive, it was probably the brainchild of some well-to-do caveman with a “waste not, want not” mentality when it came to leftovers. Whether this was woolly mammoth or beef is up to debate. Meatballs most likely originated in Persia, where the word koofteh refers to “pounded meat.” Presumably this is not a vulgar euphemism but an actual literal interpretation of the cooking method. In any case, the first meatballs were probably lamb or pork, as koofteh spread to China, North Africa, and eventually around the world. Plain, boring meatballs disappeared once they hit the shores of Italy, where the Venetians – masters of the spice trade – got around to seasoning ’em up. When not eating salad, Caesar enjoyed a variety of meatballs including peacock, pheasant, rabbit, chicken, and suckling pig. An early meatball recipe credited to Pelligrino Artusi is as follows:
Do not think for a moment that I would be so pretentious as to tell you how to make meatballs this is a dish that everyone knows how to make, including absolute donkeys. Indeed it was probably the donkey who first suggested the basic shape of the meatball to humans. My sole intention is to tell you how to prepare them when you have leftover boiled meat.
Meatballs remain popular around the world, with each country or region incorporating native touches into their cuisine. Ground beef and pork are most popular, though the Finnish enjoy reindeer, the Chinese are fond of fish balls, and in the U.K., meatballs are often made from a mixture of pig’s heart, liver, and fatty belly meat. These are known as “faggots.” No telling whether the Brits are able to eat them with a straight face.
To celebrate National Meatball Day, we made one of our favorite dishes: Italian Wedding Soup. I use ground pork for my meatballs, and I always make a ton of them because leftovers are a hot commodity. Tonight, I ended up with 116. In addition to meat, they contain (wheat) breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, salt, and pepper. I simmer them in homemade chicken stock (easy to do and far superior to store-bought) with thinly sliced carrots, celery, baby spinach, and a small pasta such as orzo. Delicious!