Growing up Italian, my Grandma often made meatballs. Hand rolled with ground beef, garlic, parmesan, fresh parsley, egg and bread crumbs…they were excellent. Whether she served them with a big bowl of spaghetti or tossed them in soup, they always made me smile. When we opened Gaetano’s in 1993, there wasn’t a better meatball to grace the menu than hers. Her meatballs put us on the map!
I graduated high school in the year 2000, and was fortunate to go on a European trip with 40 other classmates and friends. Of course, one of the stops on the European trip, was Italy. When we arrived in Italy, I literally had one thing on my mouth’s mind – Meatballs. The “David” could wait, I needed to try the meatballs from the homeland they came from.
I walked into a restaurant and asked for meatballs (aka polpette). “No, we don’t have them.”
I walked into a second restaurant and asked for meatballs. “No, we don’t have them.”
I walked into a third restaurant and asked for meatballs. “No, we don’t have them.”
I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. How could Italy not serve meatballs? My whole meatball life had come to this moment of trying them in the home country…and the Italians had never heard of them? As a very confused 18 year old, I almost started crying. I said, “what do you mean meatballs don’t exist?” to an Italian that knew a little more of our American culture.
He explained, it’s an Italian – American dish that rarely exists in Italy. Most Italians that immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900’s, came from impoverished areas. Each of these areas had a dish called, Polpette (meatballs), which was a combination of stale minced bread mixed with a small amount of meat. A small and humble dish. As these immigrants came to the U.S. and brought their recipes with them, some of these recipes were transformed into something else. In this meatball case, as the Italian Americans became more wealthy, so did the size of the meatballs. They became larger and meatier, which is what we consume today. However amazing meatballs are in the “States”, the popularity of the dish never took off in Italy.
So, stick with the delicious meatballs at your favorite Italian joint in the U.S. If you haven’t tried our meatballs, now is the time.
National Meatball day is March 9 and to celebrate, we will be featuring a bowl of three meatballs, smothered in marinara and cream marinara for ten bucks! Order them here at the restaurant or take them home to your loved ones.