Spaghetti & Meatballs, Eataly & Iowa


A few years ago I started a different blog, called the Berman Food Mall. But my energy for regular writing fizzed out after a few entries. The concept was: imagine all of your very favorite foods and restaurants -- no matter where in the world they actually are -- together under one roof. Impossible? Probably. But what an alluring piece of real estate it would be!

The Berman Food Mall.

Now Eataly, a sprawling Italian mega-store chain has opened its first US location in New York (in September 2010). Here, one can experience a physical, real life version of the Food Mall -- but with Italian food only. With over 50,000 square feet, Eataly New York weaves its 14 restaurants into aisle upon aisle, counter upon counter of Italian specialty foods for sale.

The store's layout is both daunting and thrilling. In my first few visits, I have chosen to focus on only a few departments: the multitude variety of canned and jarred tomatoes, the meats and poultry from Pat La Frieda, and the pizza restaurant.

After reading up on La Frieda, I decided to purchase several pounds of their beef for hamburgers to serve at my daughter's upcoming birthday party. My assessment: without question, the quality of these nutrient-rich burgers was many notches above the stuff available at other stores. My guests raved about them, too -- and I'm pretty sure they weren't just being polite. But despite the best intentions of all involved, I was left with about 1⅓ pounds of extra beef.

So the next day I called Kristin, my semi-vegetarian wife, at work, and asked her if she would eat spaghetti & meatballs for dinner. She said yes!

Next up, the dual purpose phone call to Iowa. It was Kristin's Great Aunt Julia's 97th birthday, and it had been a while since she and I had spoken. We chatted for a while -- about the family, her health, etc. -- and then I got to the burning topic: her recipe for meatballs. She gave it up!

Mix together: a little over a pound of ground beef, a cup each of bread crumbs and grated parmesan, some garlic powder and sweet basil, one egg, a little milk, salt, and pepper. Brown them in a pan, add them to a tomato sauce, and simmer for one hour.

I tweaked it slightly. Instead of garlic powder, I sautéed three cloves of minced garlic and used them along with the oil; by "sweet basil" she had meant dried basil flakes -- I substituted chopped fresh basil; I felt it needed two eggs instead of one; and a "little milk" turned out to be about ½ a cup.

I cannot remember her meatballs well enough to know if my rendition tasted anything like hers. But the entire time I spent making them, AJ was on my mind. Arthritis now prevents her from chopping, and she no longer makes meatballs. She also can't fry up her incredible late summer peppers. Boy, was her shit good!

Now, for all I know, the earth may be out of balance forever, all because AJ can no longer cook. So my meatballs were a tribute to AJ. I'd better call her about it soon just to let her know that I love her, and that her meatball recipe is totally top notch.

Map Eataly New York (call ahead for days/hours).