Murray’s Meatballs

Who’s Murray? – If you’ve made yourself here you might be wondering which Murray I’m talking about. That would be Murray Rothbard. Murray was an economist and political writer, who after his death, still holds a big influence in part of the Libertarian community. He is also a bit controversial. I came to know him after the 2008 financial collapse when studying macroeconomics. How something like this could happen, I asked myself? Since this is a food website I’ll spare you Austrian Business Cycle Theory (but I much recommend you at least youtube a video, it’s an epiphany!). Murray dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom, and agree or disagree, his sheer output and quality of his work is nothing short of impressive.

So, what does this have to do with meatballs? Is this his special meatball recipe? No… This is my meatball recipe, but….. the story of the meatball is the same as the story of Murray. It’s the story of beauty, born of work and hardship, that was the result of the pursuit of freedom.

Creation of the Modern Day American Meatball – My family comes from Naples, Italy. This is the undisputed birthplace of Pizza. Pasta may not have been created in Naples, but the world standard for modern-day boxed pasta is the Napoli version of it. Naples is also famous for its meat-based sauce, Ragu (Not the jar sauce). Ragu is a meat and stock-based sauce that is flavored with tomatoes, not a tomato sauce with meat in it. Neapolitans would use chunked, whole pieces of meat, typically cuts that needed time to break down the proteins. You know, the cuts that give the best flavor when given enough time. Napoli Ragu is the ancestor of the Italian-American “Sunday” sauce (or gravy depending on I.Q. level), an American staple and treasure.

It all started around 1880 when Neapolitan people started to migrate away due to a historical event called the Italian Unification. Leading up to a unified state with a Roman capital, Naples was in strife for some time during the kingdom of Two Sicilies. Apparently, the new unified government was even worse than the prior king, leading to the Italian Diaspora. This is when America first saw a major influx of Neapolitan and Sicilian immigrants. Considering that, and thinking of their cuisine, let’s realize that the Ragu Neapolitan’s used to make was no longer an option (exactly). Once in America, they had to adjust their cuisine with the ingredients available to them. The Ragu transformed. It slowly became a tomato based sauce with meat as the accompaniment. We saw an introduction of finely processed meat, formed into larger “whole” round pieces, to simulate whole pieces that used to be served in Ragu. We saw……. the meatball. I hope this next statement is very clear. The world would not be as good a place as it is today if not for the epicenter of Italian-American cuisine, the meatball.

Anatomy of the Meatball – Chop meat is not tender meat because it’s chopped. It’s easier to eat because it’s chopped. Meat with tough proteins and collagen need time to break down. Cooking chop meat on low heat for a long time is the secret to everything. It mutates the flavor to be truly tasty. Remember this when attempting this recipe. You want to bake your meatball (not fry). Then you want to cook your meatballs in tomato sauce for at least 6 hours. The acidity from the tomato sauce will also act as a meat tenderizer. This coupled with the break down by slow cooking is the combination you’re looking for. The only thing you need to avoid is baking (first step) your meatballs until they’re dried out. When you couple this with a few tricks that I’m about to show you, you’ll have a firm, but soft, spongey meatball that will be moist yet still have the ability to absorb more sauce until the bite is perfect.

How to make it!

First, you need a good tomato sauce. This recipe is a good and quick 6-hour sauce. I know, I did just say a 6-hour sauce is quick. My legit ragu (different recipe) is a 12-hour event. Start by chopping 1 onion, 1 shallot, 5-7 cloves of garlic, get about 2 teaspoons of dried oregano, and a quarter cup of fresh basil. Don’t worry, we’ll add more fresh basil towards the end. Cook on medium-low in olive oil until the onions are translucent.

Add your crushed tomatoes and stir. Salt and pepper your sauce. I also added a little chicken bullion. Use your brand of preference, although I’m a fan of Better Than Bullion. Turn your heat to low and add one peeled carrot, 2 celery stalks, and a parmigiana rind without the paper. Cover your sauce and stir every 20 minutes. It should look like it’s mildly simmering.

Now that your sauce is rocking, time to get your meatballs cooking. Take 2 lbs of chop meat, one half onion diced, 2 diced garlic cloves, 1/8th cup of fresh chopped basil, a bit of dried oregano, grated parmigiana cheese, about 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, one slice of bread soaked in water (yes you read that right, I use oatmeal bread), salt, pepper, and 1 egg. Mix well, although careful not to over mix. Your mixture should be moist but firm, so they can be rolled easily. Add more breadcrumbs if it’s too moist.

Hand roll your meat into ping-pong sized balls and place on a baking sheet. If you’re having an issue getting a smooth exterior, wet your hands. As the risque saying goes, wet hands make smooth balls (Thanks Chef John from FoodWishes.com!). Preheat your oven to 350 and bake covered for about 15 minutes, and then uncovered for another 10. These are going to cook in the sauce for about 6 hours so it’s okay if they are slightly undercooked. This is just to firm them up so they hold in the sauce.

Once they’re done add them to your sauce. Now you’re on auto-pilot. Make sure the sauce is covered and still on low, and just stir until you’re done.

Taste and season to fine tune. About 30 minutes before serving, remove your carrot, celery, and parmigiana rind. Add another 1/4 cup of freshly chopped basil. For this meal, I finished with good old spaghetti.

This dish is like a good song that’s been played too much on the radio. It gets lumped in with everything else that’s overplayed, but if you sit, clear your mind, and let yourself re-appreciate, this will always bring you back to an enjoyable nostalgic time in your life.

I want to thank freedom for bringing us this dish, for if it wasn’t for those Neapolitans searching for freedom, this incarnation of the meatball would not exist. I would also like to thank and credit Michael Heise and Emily for throwing this gag idea of making a libertarian cookbook that included libertarian-themed recipes, like Murray’s Meatballs. Without them, this post wouldn’t exist. Even though they didn’t know it, the story of Rothbard and the story of the meatball is the story of freedom.

Check out the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus.