Of all the ethnic groups in the US, Italian migrants have clung most tenaciously to their food traditions. But Italian migrants adapted dishes to suit bigger appetites and busy lifestyles... Yes, spaghetti and meatballs is an American dish. Americans, who ate more quickly and with fewer courses, expected more meat than the Italians served. Migrant restaurateurs adapted by adding more meat. The best pork fat for this recipe is the sort that makes sausages and salami so succulent, usually back or belly fat. Ask your butcher what's available. Bucatini is a hollow but thick spaghetti-like pasta. I think a long, thick pasta works better with meatballs.
500g lean pork shoulder
100g pork fat
100g day-old bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp sage, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
100g grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
Salt and pepper
80g bucatini per person
For tomato salsa
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small leek, trimmed and cut into fine half-rounds
1 stick celery from the heart, finely chopped
650g Italian tinned tomatoes, mashed
1 tsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper
Mince the pork, pork fat and mortadella using an electric or hand mincer. Soak bread in milk until absorbed. Add bread, minus any milk that's not absorbed, to the mince, along with herbs, garlic, nutmeg, parmesan and egg. Mix well with lightly floured hands. Add salt and pepper to taste. A good way to taste for seasoning is to fry a small patty with olive oil.
With your hands lightly floured, roll mixture into meatballs about 2.5cm wide. Poach in lightly simmering tomato salsa (see below) for 15-20 minutes. Any leftover meatballs can be frozen. Cook bucatini until al dente and serve tossed gently with meatballs and grated parmesan to taste.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion, garlic, leek and celery until transparent.
Add tomato and fennel seeds. Season with a few pinches of salt and some pepper.
Stir well and simmer until sauce thickens and most of the water has evaporated.