Pursuing The Perfect Meatball

meatball_post_image

It’s my favorite Jack Nicholson line and I can’t find it on YouTube. I had no trouble finding the others:

“Here’s Johnny!”

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“Hit me, Chief, I’ve got the moves!”

But this gem, from Prizzi’s Honor, is nowhere to be found:

“Practice your meatballs.”

In his role as Charlie Partana, Jack advises former flame Maerose Prizzi (Angelica Houston) to “settle down, get married, have a few kids, get a life, practice your meatballs.”

The line makes total sense to me. Good meatballs earned you big-time props in my Italian-American family. But they don’t come easily.

Good meatballs take practice – lots of practice. The variables are endless. Ground beef or a mix of beef, pork, and veal? Fried or baked? Bread or bread crumbs? Onion? Seasoning? And what about the eggs and milk? How do you get the right consistency – not too dry, not too wet?

My first efforts in the mid-1980s were woeful – rock-hard meatballs, soggy meatballs, tasteless meatballs, push-to-the-edge-of-your-plate meatballs. They were so bad, I gave up – I went meatball AWOL for twenty-five years. And then I discovered Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for turkey meatballs. My inaugural batch was edible, even tasty. I started practicing.

*     *     *

“I don’t like turkey.”

That was my mom’s reaction when I handed her a container of my turkey meatballs and Sunday gravy. “Just try them tonight and let me know what you think,” I said. My mom was not one to candy-coat her opinions — about politics, about fashion, about anything. She’d let me know what she thought about my meatballs, alright.

The following morning, my phone rang. “I had your meatballs,” my mom said, in a serious voice. “They were fabulous.”

If I had become a doctor, my mom would have been pleased.

If I had been elected President of the United States, my mom would have been proud.

If I had invented a universal TV remote that didn’t require the assistance of an MIT professor, my mom would have been my first customer.

But these would have been mere silver-medal accomplishments next to my meatball gold. They were fabulous confirmed that I had found my meatball mojo.

*     *     *

In The Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, published in 1761, the author states that “practice makes perfect.” Adams’ dictum reflects his era’s belief that through reasoning and diligence, man could become the master of his universe.

But meatballs are not easily mastered. Making them is more art than science, and meatball nirvana is fleeting. The next batch may have a tad too much milk, or the oil may be too hot, or there may be a sudden drop in barometric pressure. You can never predict exactly how the meatballs will turn out. Consistency is a more realistic goal than perfection.

It’s like shooting foul shots in basketball. One day, you go ten for ten; the next day, you’re throwing up bricks.

I don’t think John Adams knew jack about meatballs.

But Jack certainly does.

6 Comments

What a wonderful post, John. “Meatballs are not easily mastered.” You’ve got that right! But, oh what fun it is to practice. 🙂

will miss making meatballs for Mom with raisins as the secret ingredient… not a easy task to make a meatball that your Italian-American mother actually says she likes! I was honored…

nice post Johnnie… have had your turkeyballs… fabulous…

last thought: a great meatball is only as good as the gravy it simmers in… gotta make a great gravy too to get the full effect.

mangiare bene

you’ve got a thumbs up from Marie too…….

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