Comfort food: Meatballs are popular everywhere. Photo: James Brickwood
What are they?
Albondigas, tsukune, frikadeller, lion's head, keftedes, kofta, faggots, polpettine … the meatball goes by many different names, but every single one of them is delicious. No wonder it's meatball madness out there in bars, cafes, bistros and restaurants.
Where are they?
At Bottleneck, the new front bar to the award-winning Eau de Vie, the menu is all about meatballs, beers and Bloody Marys. "Everyone loves the balls," says chef Elliot Vonthethoff. "We run a classic beef ball at all times, and a ball of the week that could be lamb and dukkah with tabbouleh and yoghurt tahini." The classic beef ball uses a mix of cuts - chuck, intercostal, rump and brisket. "It helps to get the balance of fat to meat right, so they cook without drying out," Vonthethoff says.
There's also a fan club for each of the four Cafe Sopras around town for the spaghetti with meatballs, and deservedly so - they're flavoured with fennel seeds, lemon zest and pine nuts and are meltingly soft due to the sneaky addition of creamy ricotta. ''I take them off under threat of death,'' says owner Barry McDonald.
And at the lovely little Spanish-inspired Bocata in Waterloo, four beefy, smoked paprika-spiced albondigas come in a squat terracotta pot smothered with tomato salsa with bread on the side. "It's very easy food to make, to eat, to serve and to enjoy," says owner Miguel Cajias. "Everyone knows what a meatball is, from when they were kids. It's the comfort factor."
At the Meatball & Wine Bar in Flinders Lane, meatballs are raised to glorious heights with meat sourced from Sydney butcher Victor Churchill. Choose your ball (pork and fennel, pasture-fed Angus beef, chicken and pistachio, fish and dill or cauliflower and chickpea), and your sauce (red, white or green), with the option to add beans, polenta, mash or pasta. All balls are served with focaccia and parmesan. "Simple food will always have a place," owner Matteo Bruno says. "A good meatball is completely satisfying, familiar and warming."
There had to be polpette di carne with soft polenta and a rich tomato sauce on the menu at Richmond's new Baby, manager Jess Ho says. "For us, it's super traditional Italian family food, one of those great benchmark dishes.'' In more excellent news for those wondering how to survive winter, the meatballs have even made it on to Baby's takeaway menu.
City workers have been lining up for Earl Canteen's Meatball Smash for three years now (not in the same queue, obviously). The beef and red pepper meatballs are cooked then smashed into a soft roll with pesto, ricotta and tomato salsa. Why smashed? "We identified a potential problem with meatball fall-out," co-owner Jackie Middleton says. "So we crush them down and tuck them in so they're easier to eat and won't roll across the table."
Why do I care?
Because everyone adores them. Cooks who make meatballs are the cooks people love.
Can I do them at home?
You probably already do, so this is just a reminder of how good they are. Make them ahead; fry, grill, bake or steam them; cover them with sauce; stuff them into rolls and sandwiches; or toss them through pasta.
Bottleneck, Front Bar, 229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst 0422 263 226
Cafe Sopra, 11 Bridge St, Sydney 02 8298 2701 (also Waterloo, Potts Point, Walsh Bay)
Bocata, 1a, 207 Young St, Waterloo 02 9690 0558
The Meatball & Wine Bar, 135 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 9654 7545
Baby, 631 Church Street, Richmond, 9421 4599
Earl Canteen, 500 Bourke Street, Melbourne (enter Little Bourke Street), 9600 1995
Greek meatballs with tomato sauce
3 thick slices white bread, crustless
150ml red wine
500g minced beef or lamb
1 small onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
Half a beaten egg
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt and pepper
500ml tomato passata
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tomato sauce (ketchup)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1. Heat the oven to 200C. Tear the bread into pieces and soak in the red wine. Squeeze lightly, reserving the red wine, and combine the bread with the minced meat, onion, half the garlic, the egg, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, sea salt and pepper. Mix lightly, using your hands. Form into generous balls, place on a non-stick baking tray and brush with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden (or pan-fry in olive oil if you prefer).
2. Combine the reserved red wine with the tomato passata, paste, ketchup, olive oil, remaining garlic and sugar in a pan, and simmer for 20 minutes until thick. Add the meatballs and simmer in the sauce for 10 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.
Geese. Flying in now from Kangaroo Island to a plate near you. Spotted: Kangaroo Island goose ragu at Bei Amici, Darling Point. www.kifresh.com.au