As old as the meat mincer, meatballs are ubiquitous throughout the continent. They were known to the Romans and probably originated with the Etruscans. Apicius recorded a recipe for meatballs in pork caul that included minced meat, crustless bread, wine, ground pepper, garum, myrtle berries, pine nuts and whole peppercorns.
Replace the wine with milk, add butter or oil for the garum, egg instead of the caul for binding and you have a meatball similar to one made 2500 years ago.
Their popularity comes from the easy availability of ingredients and the simple method of production.
The meatball is generally made with minced meat, breadcrumbs, egg, herbs, onion and seasoning, then fried, baked or boiled, and often finished in a sauce or soup.
Regional differences, cultural influences and variable techniques characterise the meatball.
In Poland, Ukraine and Russia the influence is the bulette, a recipe brought to Berlin in 1700 with the Huguenots. Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and western Germany share the same basic recipe.
In the Balkans bulgur or rice alters the texture, which is the result of double mincing, a technique also favoured by the Turks.
The countries of the Mediterranean have a schizophrenic attitude to meatballs. They are either light and simple with nothing more than an egg and a tablespoon of cheese to bind the meat or heavy and complicated with numerous combinations of grains, herbs, legumes, spices and vegetables to enrich the meat.
The Turks boast nearly 300 varieties of köfte, including çiğ köfte (raw meatball), which combines bulgur, onions, water, paprika, mint, parsley and lemon with beef.
Meatballs are among the national dishes in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.
Just don’t make the assumption that they should be ball-shaped. The Danish meatball, a combination of minced pork, flour, egg, onion and milk, resembles a burger.
500 g pork, minced 1 onion, chopped 1 egg 1 heaped tbsp of flour Milk Salt Black pepper, ground Vegetable oil Butter, small piece
Combine mince, onions, egg, flour and seasoning. Mix thoroughly and add milk, little at a time. When the mixture makes a thack thack sound when you beat it, then it is the right consistency. It should be moist. Put in fridge for at least an hour.
Heat the oil in a pan and add butter. When the oil is warm, dip a big spoon (a tablespoon would suffice) in the mixture and form the frikadelles into an oval shape using the spoon and your hand. They should be more oval than round shaped.
After each frikadelle, dip the spoon in the hot oil so that the next frikadelle slips off the spoon into the pan.
Flatten the frikadeller slightly.
Fry gently until cooked though, about five minutes on each side. They should be still moist and spongy when served.
Danes serve frikadeller with potato salad and eat them cold on rye bread the next day.
Variations are more or less flour, and oatmeal or breadcrumbs.
The European Meatball
If there was such a dish as the European meatball, influenced by the diverse food cultures, it might be something like this.
1.75 kg beef and pork, minced 180 g Dijon mustard 175 g bread soaked in water 120 g Manchego, Parmigiano and Pecorino cheeses, grated 40 g breadcrumbs 15 g 4-pepper 10 cloves garlic, crushed, chopped 10 g Hungarian hot paprika lemon zest (2 lemons) 5 sprigs marjoram, leaves chopped small 5 scallions, chopped small 5 sprigs thyme, leaves chopped small 7 g juniper berries, crushed 5 g salt Sunflower oil, for frying
Combine the meat in a large bowl with the mustard and soaked bread, add seasonings and spices, berries and herbs, and zest.
Shape into small balls, half a finger in diameter.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Spread breadcrumbs on a large plate, roll meatballs in crumbs, covering lightly.
Heat a thin film of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, gently brown meatballs a few at a time. Transfer to a baking tray.
Bake in oven for 20 minutes.
ALBANIA Qofte minced beef/lamb, breadcrumbs/bread, egg, feta cheese, flour, garlic, mint, milk, olive oil, onion, oregano, parsley, sunflower oil, seasonings BELGIUM Ballekes minced beef/pork, braised onion, white bread soaked in milk, egg, parsley, seasonings CYPRUS Keftédes minced lamb/pork, potatoes, egg, onion, mint, parsley, vinegar, seasonings/cumin/oregano/garlic DENMARK Köttbullar minced beef/pork/veal, onion, egg, flour, milk FINLAND Lihapullat minced beef, sour cream, onion, flour, egg, mustard, paprika, seasonings FRANCE Attignole minced pork, pork fat, white bread soaked in milk, eggs and flour, onion, pepper, shallot GEORGIA Abkhazura minced beef, pork, caul fat, vinegar, black pepper, garlic, onion, cayenne, coriander, fenugreek, salt, sumac GERMANY Berliner Bulette minced beef and pork/veal, milk, egg, onion, bread soaked in milk/water, nutmeg, seasonings/bacon, caraway, garlic/marjoram GERMANY Gehacktesbällchen minced beef, onions, hard bread roll soaked in water, egg, seasonings GREECE Keftédes minced beef/chicken/lamb/pork/veal, eggs, onions, bread soaked in water, flour, seasonings, parsley, mint/oregano, thyme/garlic ITALY Polpette minced beef/veal, egg, cheese, breadcrumbs, seasonings/sausage/salami/herbs KALININGRAD RUSSIA Klopse minced beef/pork, bread roll soaked in water, onion, eggs, breadcrumbs, anchovies/mustard, seasonings/spices NORWAY Kjøttkaker minced beef/chicken, egg, potato flour or starch, oats, onion, milk or water, ginger, nutmeg, seasonings POLAND Pulpety minced beef/pork/veal/turkey, rice, semolina, onion, hard boiled egg, seasonings ROMANI Perişoare double ground beef/lamb, rice, egg, onion, parsley, paprika, flour, seasonings/mashed beans SPAIN Albóndigas minced pork, veal/beef, lamb, garlic, manchego cheese, scallions, thyme, seasonings SWEDEN Köttbullar minced beef/pork/veal, onions, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, egg, parsley, pureed potato, seasonings TURKEY Kofte double ground beef/lamb, egg, onion, flour, red pepper paste, seasonings/bulgur, walnuts, paprika flakes, parsley
This is an abridged extract from Meatballs of Europe.
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