Meatballs are a culinary icon here and abroad. Pretty much anyone over the age of two can say that they’ve enjoyed the gastronomical delight that is the meatball. Although very popular, the history of the meatball has become lost among the everyday audience. Luckily, we have two things going for us that will focus our attention to the tasty history of the meatball:
1. March 9 is National Meatball Day
2. Chef Timothy Magee, Executive Chef of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, is here to answer all of our meatball questions…he is our honorary meatball ambassador for the day.
Before we begin our mouth watering dissertation into the meatball, let us compose a brief background which provides some information on our cooking expert. Chef Timothy Magee holds a degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University. When he is not cooking, Magee enjoys spending time with each of his four pups (all of which he adopted from dog rescue shelters), a little bit of light history reading and maybe some paddle boarding here and there.
In his professional arena, Magee is the artist behind the Davio’s meatball, and as both a chef and historian, his knowledge of the dish is excitingly profound. “Many people will probably be surprised to discover that the meatball actually originated in Eastern China (the Shandong Province) around 200 B.C.,” Chef Magee explained. “Natives there would roll up ground meat and stuff whatever they could into it, with much of the meatball depending on the availability of food resources. Cooking methods varied, but most of the early meatballs were probably steamed much like the dumpling dishes of today.”
As the meatball began to travel, different cultures provided their own unique flavors to the dish, with much of the taste being driven by wealth and availability. In more modern times, the distinctions from country to country have provided originality to a dish that had become generic in its namesake. “Italians might make veal meatballs mixed with pork and beef, while Croatians use straight beef, and some of the Arab countries go for lamb meatballs infused with saffron,” Chef Magee said. “Each country or region stays true to its heritage by cooking meatballs that showcase their culture and culinary way of life.”
Because of this cultural diversity, the meatball dish is very versatile, and can easily be the centerpiece of any meal rather than just an accompaniment. The recent food movement has also helped this, with the food audience becoming much more knowledgeable and finding ways to develop creative, fun, and tasty meatball recipes that anyone can cook and enjoy. With these different options, the meatball has become elevated to a place all its own. Chef Magee believes that the adventurous spirit of modern foodies to “try this meat, or add this seasoning, or braise in this sauce” has only helped the meatball movement and brought new found attention to this age old dish. This adventurous spirit and food movement awareness, can also be seen as the inspiration behind Davio’s Vegan Lentil Meatball, which provides a non-meat option for the meatball aficionado…and yes, this is perfectly legal.
As the meatball has blossomed, so to have the side dishes which accompany it. Chef Magee enjoys preparing a collard green kimchi that goes well with nearly every style of meatball, along with a honey glaze sauce which can be poured over or used for dipping. Magee also highlighted that “meatballs are great in broths or soups, which can be mixed in with fresh vegetables…and don’t forget stuffing a few meatballs and shredded parmesan in between two slices of fresh bread- the classic meatball sub.”
Like a nice filet, or roasted duck, a proper drink pairing is deserved alongside the meatball. For wine, Magee recommends “a nice Sangiovese or Zinfandel, perhaps an Amarone or Barbera on the higher end.” Magee also has a pulse on the growing craft beer trend, and says that “many quality craft beers make for good partnerships with the meatball dish”- he recommends going for more of the lager style beers and avoiding the happiness of IPA’s.
Although it is recommended to enjoy meatballs prepared by professionals (perhaps from Chef Magee at Davio’s), the beauty of the meatball is that it can be well prepared by almost anyone. There are a few keys to make everyday meatball cooking a success:
- First, have the proper amount of breading, just enough to hold the meat together. Pack them very tight so that they cannot get soft and fall apart during cooking.
- Make sure each ball is evenly sized and spaced apart.
- Put the meatballs in a pan and roast them in the oven.
- Once roasted, put them in a nice red sauce and braise them in that liquid for 2.5-3 hours. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the ingredients. If it seems like it could work…go for it! If it turns out to be a failure, Davio’s will gladly accept you and your culinary failures (Davio’s Hours of Operations below).
If you’re thinking of preparing the meatballs yourself, take some inspiration from Chef Magee for taste ideas. Magee mentioned that his favorite meatballs often depend on his mood, but that he likes to go with “an Asian preparation, perhaps with some cured bacon, and a little smoky ginger flavor…or the classic Italian route,” which reminds him of his grandmother and provides that sentimentality which is what any great meal is all about.
Before trying to specialize in your own meatball recipe, it might be worth dropping into Davio’s on March 9 to celebrate National Meatball Day and sample some of their meatball creations with their special 3 for $9 meatball sampler…get it? 3 for $9 on 3/9…clever, but also a fantastic deal! The recipes for this Meatball Day special are posted below. Pay special attention to their lamb meatballs with fresh mint…a tasty rarity.
The meatball represents so much more than something you just throw together for the kids on a Saturday afternoon, and yet, that is exactly what it represents. It is a diverse, flexible, and creative dish that can be enjoyed on any occasion, in any setting, and by anyone. The history of the meatball illuminates these characteristics, and much like lasting folk songs, tells the tale of the human endeavor. So next time the meatball shows up on your plate, take a moment to appreciate all that it represents in past, present, and future.
Special thanks to Chef Timothy Magee of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Buckhead
Learn more about Chef Magee here
3 for $9 Meatball Sampler Recipes:
Classic Davio’s Kobe Beef Meatballs
- Ground Kobe Beef, Veal, Pork
- Focaccia soaked in milk
- Sauteed Onions
Lamb Meatballs with Fresh Mint
- Ground lamb
- Fresh Mint
- Fresh Rosemary
- Pumpernickle Bread soaked in milk
- Grated Pecorino Cheese
- Sauteed Onions
Turkey Meatballs with Scallions and Golden Raisins
- Ground Turkey
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Panko Breadcrumbs soaked in milk
- Golden Raisins soaked in white vinegar
- Sauteed Onions