The world is shaped like a meatball. And the meatball is eaten all over the world.
Little ones float in Italian or German wedding soups. The biggest, called a "lion's head," beefs up Chinese cooking. There are meatballs stuffed with anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, feta, bacon. They're fried, boiled, steamed, stewed, baked, grilled and roasted. They appear in sandwiches, on pizzas and on their own. You'll find them made with everything from lobster and lamb to mashed potatoes and reindeer. There are vegetarian meatballs, too. But despite updates, trends and very new recipes, when you think about meatballs, you think about tomato sauce and spaghetti -- and, maybe, "Lady and the Tramp."
The classic Italian-American meatball that goes into the Sunday sauce has been simmering for more than a century. "It's just a kind of 'I love you dish,'" said celebrity chef and Italian cooking guru Lidia Bastianich. "It's economical. The meatballs themselves are flavorful and easy to eat, doused with the sauce. And then, you have the pasta. It's one of those win-win situations."
It's no wonder that at restaurants plain and fancy all over Long Island, spaghetti and meatballs continues to rank among top-sellers. A new Patchogue restaurant dedicated to the spheres, That Meetball Place, opened late last year to near-instant popularity. Yet, as creative as its chef, John Hesse, can get -- there's a coconut shrimp ball, a ginger rice salmon ball and a chicken parm ball -- the biggest seller continues to be the classic beef-pork-veal meatball. As Hesse opines: "People can connect with that the most."
Here are some spaghetti-and-meatball dishes that we've eaten recently, each possessing its own secret for success.
MaBella Restaurant, Commack: Spaghetti with fork-tender meatballs is served with a racy red marinara sauce at this classic Italian eatery.
Gino's of Kings Park
Gino's of Kings Park, Kings Park: This spot serves lush, well-seasoned meatballs over red-sauced spaghetti.
Oregano Joe's, Wantagh: Steeped in Long Island tradition, Oregano Joe's offers the classic Italian-American comfort trinity: Pizza, pasta and parms. Not to be missed is the Sunday macaroni special featuring pasta topped with tender stewed beef short rib, a big, plush well-seasoned meatball and a fat link of sweet Italian sausage under a blanket of red sauce.
The Savoy Tavern
The Savoy Tavern, Merrick: This ambitious gastropub at first seems an unlikely spot for pasta and meatballs. But chef Kevin Liebov's version is a reason to visit. He makes a savory three-meat blend: chopped beef (brisket and short rib), ground veal and ground pork. They're seasoned with Pecorino Romano, fresh bread crumbs, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, some olive oil and one egg per pound. The meatballs are baked and then put in a house-made marinara sauce just before serving. Liebov uses Barilla pasta, an Italian favorite. Price: $18.
Cafe Testarossa, Syosset: The long-popular cafe zooms along with Italian and New American dishes. Among the mainstays are chef-owner Billy Sansone's light, all-veal meatballs, which star in sliders as well as with pasta. Whole eggs, Parmesan cheese, milk-soaked bread, basil, oregano, salt and pepper are added. The meatballs are quickly seared "to get a little brown crust." They then are baked and set in house-made tomato sauce before serving. The spaghetti Sansone uses is Setaro, an import from Torre Annunziata, Naples. Price: $20.
Ristorante Venere, Westbury: Angelo Graziosi, chef-owner of this Old World Italian restaurant, uses a combination of fresh ground beef and pork, which he mixes with imported Pecorino Romano cheese, eggs, garlic, salt, pepper and bread crumbs, which he soaks in milk. Then, he bakes the meatballs. This, he says, prevents them becoming dry on the outside and makes it easier for them to absorb the sauce. Before serving time, they're heated in marinara, served over Barilla spaghetti. They're savory, light, well-seasoned. Price: $13.95.
Emilio's, Commack: Meatballs are essential on the menu at Emilio's. You can have them as a grand appetizer or a main course. Owner Emilio Branchinelli's recipe calls for all-beef meatballs, which are oven-roasted and then put into a smooth tomato sauce flavored with meat. The meatballs include egg, Parmesan and young Pecorino Romano cheeses, house-made bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper. The first batch of meatballs goes into the sauce at 8 a.m., a second at 3 or 4 p.m. So yours could be in the sauce for eight or more hours. Emilio's uses Barilla spaghetti. House-made pastas are $3.95 more. Price: $16.
That Meetball Place
That Meetball Place, Patchogue: At a hip new spot devoted to meatballs, the best version, not surprisingly, is the classic one. Chef John Hesse credits a recipe from the grandmother of owners Ralph and Joe Reale. The secret, said Hesse, is to puree many of the ingredients -- bread crumbs, eggs, onions, garlic, Parmesan and spices. It's those ingredients, rather than the protein -- beef, pork and veal -- that keep the meatballs so tender and light. They're also baked and then heated in sauce, to be served over fresh spaghetti or rigatoni. Price: $14. (Second location open at 206 Main St., Farmingdale).
Grace's Trattoria East
Grace's Trattoria East, Greenvale: The trattoria fits as comfortably in the market as a meatball does in tomato sauce. Chef Brian Snider makes his meatballs with ground sirloin and ground veal. He includes garlic, Parmesan cheese, milk-soaked white bread, parsley, salt and pepper. The meatballs are baked and then simmered in house-made tomato sauce. The sauce's ingredients take in basil, salt and pepper. The meatballs are simmered in it just before serving. Snider uses De Cecco pasta. Price: $17.
Mama Mia of Northport
Mama Mia, Northport: Chef-owner Augusto Palmieri got his meatball recipe from his grandmother Josephine, who lived in Fondola, a small town near Naples, Italy. The secret to these plush spheres is that they're made with a mixture of three meats — mostly beef, but also pork and, yes, lamb. Palmieri also soaks stale bread in heavy cream and adds a little bit of bread crumbs, grated Romano cheese, garlic, eggs, salt and pepper. Also, just a tad of chili pepper. They're baked until halfway done and then simmered in tomato sauce before going on top of Barilla spaghetti. Price: $12, three meatballs
Tony Colombos Italian Bistro
Tony Colombos Italian Bistro, Rockville Centre: A newcomer with old-fashioned appeal, Tony Colombos Italian Bistro revels in red sauce. Chef and co-owner Anthony Colombo said his meatballs are made with a blend of beef, veal and pork. They come together with egg, Parmesan cheese, fresh bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper. He browns them with olive oil for four or five minutes. Then they bake in the restaurant's house-made, meat-flavored tomato sauce before they're served. Tony Colombos uses Barilla spaghetti. Price: $15.
Primo Piatto, Huntington: The recipe for the light, lush meatballs served at this Huntington spot come from the mother-in-law of Sicilian-born owner Fabrizio Castelli. The mixture, he said, is mostly beef, with a small percentage of ground pork, plus Pecorino Romano cheese, eggs, fresh parsley, garlic and only a small amount of bread crumbs. The secret that keeps them so light and moist? Ricotta. They're baked, he said, because that's the healthier way to cook them and because they won't break up when heated in marinara sauce. The sauce is first mixed into Barilla spaghetti before two extra-large meatballs go on top. Price: $16.