Most people assume that the classic dish comprised of spaghetti served with marinara sauce and meat balls is Italian in origin but its beginnings are actually Chinese and date back to the Han dynasty around 200 BC. Noodles didn’t arrive in Italy until Marco Polo returned to Italy and talked about “lasagna” which simply referred to noodles that he has eaten in China. Recipes for noodles began to appear in Italian cuisine in the late 1200’s and became a commercially produced commodity in the 1400’s.
Meat balls also were first documented in Chinese cuisine during the Qin dynasty around early 200 BC and were made from a variety of meats but not beef and didn’t appear in the Mediterranean until 1st Century AD which saw them prepared with ground lamb. Italy does have a variation of meatballs in its cuisine known as polpettes which are made with a variety of meats but not beef and are not served with pasta.
Spaghetti and meatballs didn’t come to together on menus until Italians came to North America in the late 1800’s and began working with the only readily available pasta which was spaghetti and incorporated meatballs into the dish as meat was readily available and inexpensive to purchase in America. This preparation was made with Sailor Sauce which was canned tomatoes also abundantly available in grocery stores. Marinara sauce is a tomato sauce that hails from Naples Italy. Marinaro is Italian for sailor.
The Classic American preparation of spaghetti and meatballs is a fusion of cultures that washed up on the shores of America and were fused together out of economic necessity. It has become a staple in many homes and is a great way to feed large groups a hearty meal while not spending a lot of money.
The following recipe can be made using locally sourced ground meats. If you wish to forgo using veal you can omit it but will need to add a ¼ pound of both ground beef and ground pork to replace it.
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grated Romano cheese
2 tbsp. chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
2 cups bread crumbs
1 tbsp. Italian Scallion
3/4 cup water
1 cup cooking oil
Using your hands, combine the ground meats together in a large bowl before add the garlic, eggs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Once the mixture is of even consistency add the bread crumbs and mix them into the meat before adding the water 1/4 cup at a time, creating a very moist mixture. Shape the meat mixture into golf ball sized balls by rolling them between your palms, setting them on a tray or plates.
Once you have formed all of the meat into balls, heat the cooking oil in a large skillet or deep fry pan over medium heat. Cook the meat balls by frying them in the oil in small batches. They need room to cook so do not over crowd the pan. Cook the meatballs until they become evenly browned on the outside and reach an internal temperature of 71 °c. Using a perforated spoon transfer the cooked meatballs to a paper towel line tray and continue cooking the meatballs until all are cooked. Serve immediately with or without spaghetti and tomato sauce.