“Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.”
Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival
Armed with a pot of homemade tomato sauce and a variety of recipes, I decided to tackle meatballs (and lentilballs). Fortunately, I made my sauce the day before because this took a long time. For the meatballs, I used Martha Stewart’s recipe; apparently my mother’s preferred meatball recipe was accidentally sold during a yard sale, but this one seemed similar. I scoured the internet for vegetarian meatball recipes and found a lot of options. I wanted to try one that used something other than a meat-alternative as a base, and many of the recipes I found called for either mushrooms or lentils. I chose to go with a lentil-based recipe from Sprouted Kitchen.
The first thing I did was cook the lentils so they would be cool enough to work with by the time that I needed them. As with most everything else, I didn’t know how to cook lentils so I googled instructions.
This was another soup-like experience. I dumped the vegetable stock and uncooked lentils into a pot, and twenty minutes later I had cooked lentils. They had doubled in size. I strained what little of the stock had not been absorbed by the lentils and set them aside.
I started working on the meatballs first because I figured they would take longer. Also, it turned out they had to rest for an hour before being cooked but because I didn’t read the recipe before starting I was surprised when I got to this part. Luckily, I was able to make the lentilballs—which also surprised me with a necessary, and thankfully shorter, rest time—during this time, but let that be a lesson to my faithful readers: always read the recipe, in its entirety, before doing anything else.
As with the tomato sauce, the most annoying part of this recipe was working with the ingredients that needed a lot of preparation, like washing and painstakingly picking leaves off of stems (I’m talking to you, parsley) and smashing and pressing (instead of mincing the garlic, I used a garlic press which basically pushes the garlic through a very fine sieve; it’s easier but seems to waste a lot of garlic). Both recipes called for parsley and garlic so I made sure to prepare enough.
Before I started working with the meat, I got everything I would need later ready. I cracked a couple eggs and lightly beat them with a fork. Then, I ripped some white bread into small pieces and measured out the milk that it would be soaked with. According to my mother, the trick to having meatballs that are not dry is always using bread and milk instead of breadcrumbs. In a small bowl, I portioned out the amount of salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, parsley, and garlic needed for the meatballs. Once I had everything ready to go, I added the milk to the bread so that it could soak for five minutes and moved on to the meat.
This recipe calls for ground beef and ground pork. The beef used was 80 percent lean which apparently means there is a good amount of fat in it; that fat would make a gross appearance when the meatballs came out of the oven, but it probably played a big part in the taste of the meatballs so it was a necessary evil. I mixed the beef and pork together by hand—there’s even a picture to prove that my hand touched meat—and then I added the remainder of the prepared ingredients. The mixture was cold and slimy. I almost forgot to add the eggs, but eventually I realized they were still sitting sadly on the countertop while everything else was being mushed into one giant meatball.
After remedying the absent egg situation, I formed the meat mixture into equally-sized meatballs and placed them in the refrigerator for an hour.
While the meatballs set, I grabbed my lentils and switched over to vegetarian mode.
According to the recipe, I needed to pulverize two cups of cooked lentils in a food processor. I had started with two cups of dry lentils but ended up with way more once they were cooked, so I remeasured the lentils and processed them into “mush.”
After the food processor stage, the recipe for the lentilballs was pretty similar to that of the meatballs. In addition to the salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, and eggs that also went into the meatballs, I mixed ricotta cheese and dried thyme (but not fennel seed because I didn’t have any) in with the lentils. This recipe included breadcrumbs in lieu of milky bread. Once all of the ingredients were combined, I let the mixture rest for twenty minutes.
While the lentil mixture rested, I set about finishing the meatballs. Martha Stewart finishes her meatballs by browning them in a pan, but that takes a lot more time, effort, and skill than I felt ready to devote to the task of meatball cooking. Instead, I found a recipe, Alton Brown’s, that used the oven for cooking. After the meatballs cooked for twenty minutes at 400 degrees, I took them out of the oven, set them on a paper towels to get rid of some of the excess fat, and dropped them in the sauce (after separating it into two pots) to finish cooking.
Once I finished with the meatballs, I shaped the lentilballs, brushed them with olive oil, and placed them in the recently vacated oven to cook for twenty minutes.
The lentilballs emerged from the oven looking less sturdy than the meatballs so I decided not to add them to my sauce for fear they would all fall apart. Instead, I would bring the sauce to them once they were plated.
While the lentilballs were in the oven, I boiled a pot of water and followed the directions on the spaghetti box—nine minutes for al dente pasta—then drained the cooked pasta in a colander and poured it back into the pot to be mixed with tomato sauce.
It was now time to assemble the spaghetti and meatballs/lentilballs. As always, the two dishes look similar, but if you look closely the plate on the right (mine) looks a little bit drier than the plate on the left.
This meal was a (mostly) big success. The tomato sauce and spaghetti were perfectly fine, but they weren’t the stars of the show. The meatballs were a wild success. They were so good that my mother wished I could taste them. My lentilballs were generally tasty but were super dense and slightly dry (probably because of the breadcrumbs). All in all, I was pleased with how things turned out, especially considering the amount of work that went into this meal.
Things that I am taking away from this week’s cooking experience:
Always read the recipe first.
Never brown garlic.
Bread + milk = delicious meatballs.