Sunday, 23 January 2011

Italian Foodie Experience #3 Cooking for Mini Italians and Pseudo-Italian Meatballs

One of my most traumatic foodie experiences in Italy was cooking for my friends' Italian children.

Don't get me wrong, they were lovely boys, but just like their Italian adult counterparts, they knew what they liked and how it should be cooked.

It took me many failed attempts to be able to cook to their standard.
I mean, the adults could always tell you what a wonderful cook you were in such a courteous and loving manner, that you would actually believe them, albeit for not too long!
The children, however, still polite, would just, merely refuse to eat your food by stating that they were full.

I have to say that I admired this. It's part of the Italian culture, always to be loving, complimentary...any other child would have frown and stated purely and simply that they did not like it!
Italian children were far too aware of your feelings and how they would hurt you by saying such a thing.

And so the food was played with, pushed to the side of the plate, twirled about for a bit, and after half an hour, a happy exclamation of supposed satisfaction.
The Italian Children then exclaiming they were full, albeit that their plates, themselves were still full of food.

So I asked around, tweaked a few recipes or so, tried what I thought all children would like and still nothing.
Until one day I asked one of the boys if he liked Meatballs.

There was a silence.
I repeated the question:' Do you like spaghetti with meatballs?'
The reply came: 'Don't know, never tried it...'

That made me think that I hadn't actually come across any Spaghetti and Meatballs in any Italian residence or restaurant, for that matter!

I googled the fact and this is what I found:

'No peasant in Italy had eaten spaghetti with meatballs or milanese alla napoletana prior to migration. Such dishes used ingredients that had originated in the Americas but by 1920 those ingredients were typically imported from Italy before being combined by immigrant cooks in America with the meats that had originated in Europe but were mass produced in the new world.'
From History in Focus

Not implying that the people or the area I lived in were peasants, but Spaghetti with Meatballs was just not part of their culture. It was an American idea!

What better challenge then? To cook this pseudo-Italian Dish and to have it tried and tested by genuine Italian children!

And so I did. I replaced the Spaghetti with Linguine as I thought it would hold the sauce better.

The result was surprising. The boys loved it!

I was so moved I even asked Luca if I could take a picture of him eating my meatballs so that it could go down in Blog History!

He, being the true Italian gentleman he is, agreed to it!
How I miss the Italian boys, they taught me so very much indeed!

Linguine with Pseudo-Italian Meatballs


For the meatballs:
250gs of Veal Mince (optional)
250gs of Pork Mince
500gs of Beef mince or 750gs if not using veal Mince
1tsp of dried onion
1tsp of mixed Italian herbs (or herbs of your choice)
1 cup of breadcrumbs
2 small minced cloves of garlic
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
1tbsp of fresh chopped parsley
1tbsp of olive oil

For the tomato sauce:
1tbsp of olive oil
1 large chopped onion
2 minced cloves of garlic
1tbsp of chopped salami (optional)
300gs of passata or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1tsp of sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Linguine or Spaghetti


In a bowl, mix the meat with the dried ingredients (herbs, dried onion, breadcrumbs and garlic)
Add the parsley,egg and and mix well together
 Shape into meatballs the size of a golf ball. If possible, get tiny hands to do it for you, like so:

Pour the olive oil into a medium heat frying pan and sear on all sides
Set aside and start working on your sauce.
Pour the olive oil into a large pot and set to a medium heat. Fry your salami for one minute-to flavour the oil.Add your onion and cook for 10 minutes, until translucent, soft and sweet.
Add your garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add your passata or tomatoes, sugar and salt and pepper.Cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes.
Add your meatballs, cover and cook for a further 45 minutes.
Boil your pasta 10 to 15 minutes before the meatballs are ready-depending on the recommended cooking time.
Pour the pasta into the meatballs and stir well. Allow it to rest for 2 minutes so that the pasta can absorb some of the sauce.
Serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan!


Appetizer Meatballs on Foodista


  1. wow he is gorgeous....I love this dish!!!

  2. How could he resist, what a perfect combination and what a wonderful way to break down resistance. Love the story, and really that picture says it all!

  3. He looks so happy and he should be. They may be pseudo meatballs but I do love how Italians emigrated and adapted to suit their new home and honro their old.

  4. Luca is so cute...and the meatballs sure look delicious...nothing like homemade meatballs :-)

  5. Wonderful post!
    I think my daughter must be Italian!

  6. Fascinating experience for sure, how great that the boys were so polite and wonderful that they loved the meatballs! Those look terrific for sure!

  7. I can say is perfect and I actually am italian:))

  8. Love this post! I love Italy, Italian food and Italian people......:)

  9. this looks great and pleased you got them figured out in the end, love the picture of Alex making the meatballs :-)


  10. I tried to leave a comment here ages ago and it looks like it got swallowed by the mysterious internet, lol. I was saying that I don't think I'd have the nerve to cook for Italian or French children!! But I am certain I would love your meatballs, mmmm. And your son is such a cutie!!

  11. bom dia,

    gostei muito do seu blog e pelo que li... e nada melhor que o vinho para acompanhar as refeições bem preparadas...

    Peço-lhe um um favor, que coloque o link do nosso blog no seu site para que as pessoas também possam conhecer mais sobre vinho...

    Forte abraço

  12. You know, the fact that you eventually learned to cook to the standard of Italian children is very impressive indeed! That may be the biggest challenge in the cooking world. :)

    Very true about spaghetti and meatballs not being truly Italian EXCEPT for that there is apparently a dish from Abruzzo that features teeny-tiny meatballs and pasta (according to CookItaly from Bologna). And from my internet wanderings, it would seem that the dish is beginning to catch on with some southern Italians, copying their American cousins... ironic, no?

  13. What a perfect bowl of Pasta and meat balls!!
    This sure makes me hungry:) What a great set of Photos

  14. he's a handsome boy and the dish looks delicious! In the show The Sopranos, mobster Paulie Walnuts remarks that "(New) Jersey is more Italian than Italy. At least there I can get decent macaroni and gravy!" So much of what Italian-Americans think of as Italian food is American ingredients absorbed by southern Italian immigrants. Happily, red sauce and meatballs are awesome authentically Italian or not!

  15. What a wonderful experience and recipe to compliment it! The spaghetti and meatballs looks so delicious and I bet the boys enjoyed it so much! :) Thanks for sharing.

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