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ralph robert moore

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Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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i have probably eaten thousands
september 1, 2013


Years and years ago, there was a sketch on Saturday Night Live, where one of the cast members die and go to Heaven. Once he or she (I don't remember which) is there, it occurs to them to ask a lot of questions that went unanswered in their lives. I could see that as the premise for a great one act play. Who really loved me? Who really appreciated me? Did everyone who slighted me in life eventually get spanked in one way or another for their bad behavior? (I'm guessing, probably not.) And of course the ultimate question, the one we don't want to ask, Was I a good person? Judged against truly good people? For all my pettiness, and grudges, and weaknesses when I should have been strong, for all those fleeting moments I now view with shame, or regret, or dismay, overall, Was I a good person?

The SNL sketch, though, focused on more general topics. Was Jim Morrison really dead? Who actually killed JFK?

In my novel The Angry Red Planet, as yet unpublished, the protagonist reflects at one point on the ridiculously small number of turkeys we eat in our lifetime. Because normally we only get a turkey dinner once or twice a year, at Thanksgiving and, sometimes, Christmas. If we live to eighty, and many of us don't, and only eat turkey at Thanksgiving, because to me Christmas is a prime rib roast, that's only eighty times, at most, we've sat down to a table with a turkey. Probably less, because in our first few years we're eating stewed food from a jar, fruit and peas, and in our far years, in the sunlit stillness of a nursing home, too long an interval between each "tick" and "tock", chances are we're just getting a cut-up plate of turkey and token stuffing, gravy from a can, if even that. In the ward, do we even know when it's Thanksgiving? Maybe they just serve us meatloaf again. And the nurses eat turkey TV dinners in the break room while they talk about the hot Fedex delivery guy, game show on the widescreen.

I'll have a lot of questions once I die. The one about God, obviously (from my God essay, "There may be ghosts without God, or God without ghosts.") But one question I will eventually ask is, How many meatballs did I eat during my life?

Because I love meatballs. They're just made to be bitten into, like tall throats are made for vampires. The perfect shape for the mouth, where you can easily bite off a good third of the meatball, then rotate it, or rotate your mouth, and munch up the rest. A shape just waiting for your teeth, a swirl of flavors just dying to be appreciated across your tongue, gums, roof of your mouth, back of your throat.

But the thing is, most meatballs really aren't that good. We eat them because they're meatballs, and we love the idea of meatballs. But how many times, masticating, do we really roll our doomed eyes thinking, My God, what a fucking fantastic meatball I've got in my mouth!

You have spaghetti and meatballs, or a meatball grinder, and the truth is, too often the meatballs are tough, tasteless spheres. No joy to the teeth, the palate, the stomach, the soul. Wiping tomato sauce from your lips, red on the white paper napkin. Disappointed again.

Outside the restaurant's wide front window, empty sidewalks.

I have probably eaten thousands of meatballs so far in my life.

In pizzerias, at drive-in movies, at parties, at white-tableclothed restaurants with take-out registers by the noisy bar.

Most of them were a let-down.

Mary is a genius at coming up with great recipes. She'll create something I think is perfect, then tinker with it and come up with an even better recipe.

And so it was with meatballs. She now has what is absolutely the best meatball recipe ever. They're tender, moist, complex in flavor, with a strong garlic accent. If you try one of these meatballs, even without any sauce whatsoever, you're going to absolutely love them. I guarantee.

So here's what you have to do to make truly outstanding meatballs.

Onion Mixture

1 TB extra virgin olive oil
cup onions, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
heaping tsp red pepper flakes
tsp fennel seed

Panade

3 slices white bread
1/3 cup milk

Meatballs

8 oz sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
tsp salt
tsp Italian seasoning
10 oz ground chuck

(Use authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if at all possible. Parmigiano-Reggiano only comes from certain designated regions in Italy. It has crystals within its wedge, and an incredibly complex flavor. You can tell if it's authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano if you look at the back of the wedge, the rind. If the rind includes part of the spelling of Parmigiano-Reggiano, it's authentic. If you can't buy Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you don't absolutely need to for this recipe, at least buy a "Parmesan" wedge, which is an American/British knockoff of true Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Under absolutely no circumstances whatsoever use pre-grated Parmesan that comes in a green cylindrical container. That's like cooking a luscious Porterhouse steak to well-done. It's a sin, and you want to go through your life committing as few sins as possible.)

Adjust oven rack to upper middle position. Heat oven to 475 degrees.

For the onion mixture: Whirl the fennel seed in a spice grinder to reduce the seeds to powder. Inhale the strong licorice smell. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven. Add onion, cook until golden (10-15 minutes). Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, fennel powder. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer onion mixture to a large bowl. Let cool. If you don't have a spice grinder, pour the fennel seeds into a plastic baggie, and pound the dark curly seeds, crushing them.

For the panade: Tear bread into bits. Mash bread and milk in a small bowl into a loose paste. The panade will add moisture and tenderness to your meatballs.

For the meatballs: Combine the panade with the onion mixture until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, except beef. Mix to combine. Add beef. Knead with your hands until thoroughly combined.

Form mixture with hands into meatballs, each about 2 inches.

Bake on a baking sheet until browned, about 20 minutes. (We don't fry our meatballs, because they tend to get flat, hard sides, and cook unevenly.)

The meatballs are ready to eat then and there. And we always indulge ourselves by each eating one at that point.

If you're going to use them that evening, transfer however many meatballs you want to a sauce pan of spaghetti sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes, to mix the flavors of the meatballs with the sauce, and vice versa (if you're slicing the meatballs for use as a pizza topping, the simmering in sauce should be skipped.)

These cooked meatballs freeze extremely well. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep them for months.

And now you're eating what we eat.