They may not brand it as such, but I would argue that where there’s a nation, there’s a meatball. I’ll leave it to your imagination to link the dish to the national stereotypes. The Americans like their meatballs lightly seasoned with onions and garlic and pumped up with a handful of bread crumbs. They prefer it be crammed in a bun with everything else two pieces of bread can hold: cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes, and hosed down with ketchup, mustard and relish.
The Swedish, oddly, brand their meatballs with their country’s name, and my Norwegian Grandma makes a pretty mean one. The secret is in the combination of ground beef, pork, mashed potato, and cream, and just a little seasoning. The Swedish meatball should be tender, squeezed mercilessly in its uncooked state by strong hands, then formed into perfectly round balls and chilled. You cook them up in a generous pool of melted butter, and then whip in flour and more cream to make gravy. If my grandmother’s excellent meatballs are not available, a bag of ready-made ones and a jar of lingonberry sauce from IKEA does very nicely!
The French probably pretend they don’t have a meatball, so on down to Italy then. My very favourites, stuffed with fresh parsley, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and a splash of red wine. Well, as long as the bottle is open, then… With these glorious little things all cooked up in the pan, all you’ve got to do for a sauce is scrape up the meatball-y bits, reheat some olive oil in the pan, brown a bit of onion and garlic, add a big can of chopped tomatoes and stir in a couple spoonfuls of tomato paste for thickening the sauce. Herb it up (I like lots of oregano and basil) and reintroduce the cooked meatballs. Let it all simmer together for an hour, half an hour, throw over spaghetti.
The Greek meatball tends to stand on its own. Made with ground beef and even better with lamb, the meatball is mixed with onions or garlic, chopped fresh mint and parsley, and kissed with fresh lemon juice. Once shaped into oval-shaped patties and fried, it is served with lemon wedges and perhaps tzatziki sauce for dipping. And probably potatoes, rice and pita bread too.
That’s pretty much my knowledge of meatballs. Japan has fried octopus balls (takoyaki) that sort of puffs out its filling when bitten into. Kind of disgusting, actually. They had things that resembled meatballs, but always small, perfectly shaped and light as a feather to eat. Not at all like the filling, hearty meatballs of Europe.
Last, I had the pleasure of recently sampling the Romanian meatball. They were oblong shaped, and according to my hostess, amazing when barbecued. It was pissing rain, but the simple meal of pan-fried meatballs with thick buttered slices of artisan bread was just perfect.