Page #3 – About meatballs and donkeys

Do not think for a moment that I would be so pretentious as to tell you how to make meatballs. This is a dish that everyone knows how to make, beginning with the jackass, which was perhaps the first to provide the model for the meatball for the human race.”.

Pellegrino Artusi, “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”, 1891

It’s me, The Stove, again. Before I take a stroll down memory lane today, let me talk about something a bit more cultured. Are you ready for a quick history lesson about meatballs? I’ll make it fun, I promise.

What is the origin of meatballs?

The meatball, made of meat or vegetables or legumes, is not an exclusively Italian dish, it is indeed very likely that they were born in Persia and from there exported to the Arab world and then to Europe (in Spain they are called albondigas from the Arabic al-bonâdiq).

It is certain that meatballs are a dish that is widespread all over the world and they were already so at the end of the 19th century if Pellegrino Artusi believed that donkeys could also make them.

Economic and proletarian dish thanks to the use of a not very noble meat (minced meat), with the addition of bread, milk and eggs, meatballs with sauce owe their extraordinary popularity and identification with the Italian culinary tradition, thanks to the habit of Italian immigrants in America to prepare “Spaghetti with meatballs”. It is a one-course meal that finds some confirmation in the regional traditions of egg pasta or timbales with meatballs, but which in that form is an original invention of broccolini (Italians in Brooklyn), and it also became famous thanks to the cinema.

Who among you has never seen the famous scene of Lady and the Tramp romantically sharing their own plate of spaghetti with meatballs?

Enough with history, let’s get back to our family stories!

Violetta inherited this classic recipe for meatballs from her mother and when she prepares them with the scent of sauce, many memories also materialise.

In particular, it comes to my mind when Maurizio and Violetta ran their first restaurant business, and grandmother Bianca helped them by preparing pots and pots of meatballs. Maurizio was the one in charge of collecting meatballs, so that Bianca used to say she was cooking them “for Maurizio”.

The youngest nephew (editor’s note: the authoritative author of our logo), at the time still very young, was particularly fond of them, and so he used to get really worried and ask: “Are they all for Uncle Maurizio?”. And then, no matter how long it took Bianca to cook them, he stayed right next to her the whole time to check there were some left in the pan and he made sure he could have at least one portion.

Of course, Bianca never left anybody without meatballs.

Now, after almost ten years, the whole family still remembers this episode and laughs about it, but for this very reason, when Leo now comes to visit her here in London, among the dishes that Violetta prepares for him there are always meatballs.

The Stove

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