Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On Stretching Meat, or Meatballs, or Unintended Double Entendre Ground Beef Adventures

Sexual innuendo aside (in your endo), these are tough times. Remember when you couldn't afford steak so you turned to the cheaper alternative, ground beef? Now ground beef is easily $3.69 a pound, same as a gallon of gas and a gallon of milk. Since the cost of living has doubled, are you making double the salary you were at the beginning of the year? Neither am I. So, stretch we must. Let me reintroduce you to a little technique you might have learned if Home Ec had bothered to teach anything useful about home economics. How to make meatballs.

First, let's say I have just a little ground beef left. 5 7/8 ounces, to be exact. Almost three ounces of ground beef doesn't exactly make a satisfying entree if you don't have many vegetables left in the crisper or any hamburger buns or any potatoes. And if you're out of grocery money for the week, this is all probably the case. So, we stretch and we serve with a starch (pasta).

Tear up one slice of sandwich bread and mix with one egg. Add a dribble of milk if you must, but too much and the balls will disintegrate and you'll end up with meat sauce which is lovely, but not quite what we're going for. Let the bread hydrate for a few moments until it is no longer dry but definitely not soggy. Then add:
a pinch of dried oregano
a pinch of dried basil
a good pinch of salt
some hearty grinds of pepper
a garlic clove, grated with a microplane or pressed
a grating of Parmesan (I'm down to the rind myself, but there's still just enough to make do).

Just like meatloaf, this is a dish meant to make the most of what you have, so don't be afraid to improvise. Just like meatloaf, I like to take a little pinch of the mixture and fry it up to make sure I've got the seasoning right.

We began with 5 7/8 ounces of meat. Subtracting out 8 7/8 ounces of plate, we end up with 9 7/8 ounces. Did you catch that? We added 4 ounces of good, wholesome, flavorful filler and almost doubled the output. Ten ounces of meatballs with 4 ounces of pasta and two slices of garlic toast is a fine and satisfying meal for two.

And for the record, I like my meatballs brown [snigger]. Here's why: grandmothers everywhere know that if it tastes savory, you will need less of it to feel full. They knew this before hundred buck-a-plate restaurants were touting "umami." No matter how tremendously you've seasoned the meatballs, they will taste more meaty and more savory if you brown them first. So I load up a pan with olive oil and I brown the bejeezus out of them before I put them in marinara sauce.

I like to keep a can of Hunt's Pasta Sauce in the pantry; it's usually about a dollar and tastes better than the more expensive brands (plus it feels old-timey and you know I love that). I add a splash of vodka and a spoonful of sugar and let it simmer with the meatballs for about twenty minutes.

Honest, humble, and delicious.

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