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The people of Swallow Falls in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will never go hungry again–all they have to do is wait for a fried chicken forecast or a chocolate cake rain shower with knife and fork in hand. The sky is a virtual kitchen, ready to churn out food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just add water.
An animated movie based on a children's book by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a foodie movie I've been looking forward to since last year. The title also got me thinking about spaghetti and meatballs, a dish that I have never ordered in restaurants because I found it a bit overwhelming. Still, it's an apt dish to get rained on if you're very hungry–just looking at the cluster of meatballs on top of spaghetti is very filling indeed.
The first time I made meatballs, I used a recipe from the back of a spaghetti sauce label. I think that particular meatball recipe was called almondigas and it was meant to be served with rice. A search through The Oxford Companion to Food yields several names for meatballs: it's called albĂ łndiga in Spanish, keftédes in Greek, kotbulle in Swedish, Klopse in German and frikadeller in Danish. It's also related to the Indian kofta.
So in honor of the movie, I gave meatballs another try, this time cooking it with its classic partner, the spaghetti. I looked for a simple recipe–no fancy ingredients or complicated procedures–just something simple, quick to do but comforting to eat. My only concerns are twofold–that the meatball remains intact after frying and the sauce complementary and delicious.
These are some of the things I've learned along the way:
1) Instead of beef and pork, use ground chicken for variety. It's also healthier.
2) To keep the meat together, add an egg and dust the mixture in flour. Shape the meatballs into bite-size pieces–about the size of a five-peso coin. They're easier to cook and eat. Leave the gigantic meatballs to the pros in restaurants.
3) If you have a bottle of good red wine languishing in the cupboard from two Christmases ago, add half a glass into the sauce. It will give the sauce that beautiful hint of French flavor like in a coq au vin (braised chicken with wine).
4) The sauce depends on whether you like it smooth or chunky–use ordinary spaghetti sauce for smooth, canned whole tomatoes for chunky.
5) Season well, but not too much. The meatball and the sauce should complement each other, not drown the other out.
Photo by Anna Moderska