Meatballs: The Ultimate Guide
Why buy it?
Back in 2011, the meatball trend forged in New York City quickly swept the USA. It even made its way Down Under and, by 2012, Melbourne film and television producer Matteo Bruno had opened the first dedicated meatball joint in the country.
Who doesn’t love meatballs? Their prevalence in just about every culture, from Italian polpette, Middle Eastern kofte and Mexican albondigas to Chinese lion’s head, answers the question with a resounding ‘everybody does’ and explains the continued popularity of Bruno’s comfort food-made-chic Meatball & Wine Bar restaurants. Today, his three venues serve over 10,000 balls weekly.
Meatballs: The Ultimate Guide is the restaurateur’s first book – a compilation of his venue’s best sellers and the tricks he’s learnt for top results – and true to its name, it’s a cracker. There are over 60 different varieties to choose from, plus 20 sotto palle (literally ‘under balls’ in Italian, aka meatball sides), 20 sauces and about the same in garnishes, all of which are designed to mix and match, so the possibilities are, figuratively, endless.
You’d think a book dedicated to small spheres of minced meat would be short on dishes to include, but Meatballs’ seriously tempting selection highlights the diversity of this global favourite – and what a little imagination and a lot of love can lead to.
Cookability Like all food, great meatballs rely on the best quality meat you can get your hands on, which Bruno recommends you mince yourself – with a dedicated mincer for the gung-ho, but a food processor with attachment will suffice. Bruno also breaks down optimum cooking methods for different meatball types, from deep-frying to poaching. That’s about as technical as this book gets. And while meat lovers have found a kindred spirit in Bruno, his recipes for poultry, seafood and vego balls are equally alluring.
Must-cook recipe “You can put almost anything into a meatball and this recipe exemplifies how easy it is to adapt some of your favourite dishes,” writes Bruno of his ridiculously good-looking beef short rib meatballs served with a dark red wine sauce. “By flaking the meat of the cooked short rib, you can combine it with minced meat to create a ball.” Yes, please. The deep-fried, panko breadcrumb-coated, honey-glazed chicken balls also sound right up our alley.
Most surprising dish If you thought meatballs were straight up, think again. Take the ‘self-saucing beef jus ball’, filled with warm, rich liquid jus that pours out when sliced open (much like cult favourite xiao long bao). ‘Big balls’, the meatball equivalent of turducken, with a smaller pork and bacon ball encased in beef, is also pretty wild (and enticing!).
Cook the book
1. Veal and pork balls with polenta [pictured above]
The Ultimate Sandwich
Why buy it
You’re thinking, “who needs a sandwich book?” right? Wondering why you’d pay for a book that just tells you what to put between two slices of bread? The thing is, this is not that book.
Jonas Cramby is an award-winning Swedish food writer (and screen star – if you don’t understand Swedish, his YouTube cooking channel will make you wish you did). You’ll find yourself hungry and ready to head to the kitchen not far into the book, but the appeal is not just the recipes (good as they are – more on that in a moment). Jonas is a fun read. Take sourdough. You’d think a sandwich book written by a food lover would use sourdough here and there, wouldn’t you? No. “Don’t get me wrong: I love sourdough bread… but whereas sandwiches are all about the whole, most of the rustic sourdough breads are just ‘me, me, me’ all the time,” he writes. “...The sourdough load is, simply put, a diva, an individualist, while the bread required for a really good sandwich has to be a team player.”
The book is divided into chapters based on the bread used: pain de mie, rye, biscuits (aka scones) and muffins, baguettes, a Sicilian loaf, steamed buns, brioche (sort of – “Offering this bread to a French baker and calling it brioche would probably make him or her start gasping for air, so don’t do that.”). Each starts with a recipe for the bread and then gives a half-dozen or so recipes using it. The baguette, for example, becomes char siu banh mi and an fried oyster po’boy. Scattered throughout are recipes for making fillings and condiments from scratch, from Cuban ketchup and sauerkraut to 30-minute mozzarella and vegan pastrami.
Cookability You can – and Cramby says this himself – make most elements from scratch or buy all the ingredients and then just assemble them. Take the Rachel sandwich, the pastrami-filled cousin of the Reuben. You need rye bread, island dressing, pastrami, coleslaw and dill pickles. Cramby has provided recipes for all of them. Making these sandwiches can be as easy or involved as you like.
Must-cook recipe Fried chicken scones. Cramby calls it a scone, but what he’s creating here is a tall, melt-in-your-mouth southern-US biscuit, split in two to hold juicy chicken thighs that have been coated in lemony buttermilk and spiced and seasoned flour, deep-fried to crispy perfection, then drizzled with honey mustard sauce and topped with pickled gherkins. A close second: Homemade porchetta and salsa verde popped into a brioche bun that’s been cut in two and fried in a little bit of butter.
Most surprising dish It’s not such a surprise to see ice-cream sandwiches. But a doughnut sandwich with coffee ice-cream, drizzled with coffee icing, with some funny banter about cops and the dangers of eating while driving? Now that’s kicking things up a notch.
Cook the book
1. Meatball hero [pictured above]
Recipes and images from The Ultimate Sandwich by Jonas Cramby (Pavilion Books, $34.99, hbk).
Pure Pork Awesomeness
Why Buy It
It’s a bold claim in that there cracking (pun intended) title. Does it live up to it? With one small exception, yes it does.
Kevin Gillespie is an American chef with a long string of kudos to his name – a finalist on US television show Top Chef, a James Beard Award finalist for his first book, Fire in My Belly, named to Forbes 30 under 30 list, among others. But what matters here is his passion for the subject. This man really likes cooking with pork. Although he does address issues such as pastured ( i.e. free-range) pork, this book is really all about how to make the most of this white meat. Chapters on pork shoulder, loins, belly and ribs, hams, sausages and “odds and ends” each start with a good story – for example, an encounter with an unhappy customer: “this woman looked so sweet and nurturing, I expected her to hand me a tray of warm cookies, but she had a mouth on her like a longshoreman just off the docks… here I was being chewed out by Betty Crocker”. Gillespie quotes her tirade – She swears in a most un-Betty way. (A heads up – Gillespie himself throws in a few expletives here and there in the book, too. )
Gillespie then explains what’s “Good to Know” about the cut – anything from why some cuts don’t freeze well to how to why pork shoulder is a great choice for making sausages and then it’s on to the recipes. There is plenty of awesomeness. The subtitle of the book is Totally Cookable Recipes from Around the World and Gillespie’s recipes roam the globe: Korean barbecued bulgogi, Mexican red chile pesole, Scottish-style bangers. And it does feel totally cookable.
The one small quibble? We’re spoilt these days; most cookbooks have beautiful pictures, often of every recipe. The visuals here are a little more old-school, and about half the recipes here don’t have images. It’s not a big deal, though; you’ll still find yourself wanting to buy, and cook from, this one.
Must-cook recipe The Vietnamese spareribs with chile and lemongrass. Tender meat with a sticky, crackly edges created by steam-baking, basting with a punchy puree of lemongrass, chiles, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic and sugar, and then grilling. The tapas-style Serrano ham croquettes with smokey tomato mayonnaise for dipping sound mighty fine too.
Most surprising dish It would have been the bacon popcorn if it weren’t for the fact that there are desserts (yes, really) in the book, including banoffie trifle with candied bacon and bacon molasses-chipwiches (semifreddo studded with candied bacon bits, sandwiched between ginger snap biscuits).
Cook the book
Recipes and images from Pure Pork Awesomeness: Totally Cookable Recipes from Around the World by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $40, pbk)
Food + Beer
Why buy it?
After water and tea, beer is the third most imbibed beverage globally. The oldest recorded recipe in the world is also believed to be for a batch of brew. These beer titbits (plus more great trivia night material) set the tone for Aussie chef and cookbook author Ross Dobson’s newest (he’s penned over a dozen) cookbook. Basically, beer is awesome.
Dobson takes it a step further, arguing that beer is perhaps more appropriate for food pairing than wine. He’s not the first; the rise in food and beer matching is off the back of the craft beer trend, where the nuanced and distinctive flavours of different beers have come to the fore. That, and a general acknowledgement that some beer flavour characteristics are inherently more suited to food (think herbaceous and citrusy dishes, for example).
Food + Beer is an ode to this happy union and a compendium of recipes that go well with your favourite global brews. While it’s filled with detailed beer tasting notes, this is a fun, light-hearted, even cheeky title – Dobson, who’s known for his wry writing style, doesn’t disappoint, and dishes are inviting, straightforward and flavour-packed. Even the design and photography is playful and punchy. A great gift for dad – or any home cook who might like a cold one with their food.
Cookability Dobson’s selection of dishes is clever – for familiarity, food favourites from Asia to the Middle East, like Japanese tempura prawns and Balinese chicken curry, which he pairs with a corresponding local beer, like Asahi and Bintang, for ease. In saying that, he also deviates for diversity – chicken tikka masala is paired with a French farmhouse beer, for example – and he showcases more off-the-beaten track dishes, like cowboy chilli, too. All in all, tasty fare great for casual weekend get-togethers.
Must-cook recipe We have to admit, it all looks pretty appealing, especially with the thought of a refreshing beer to go with. ‘Cause sandwiches are always a winner and Latin flavours are so hot right now, the Cuban sandwich with four-hour orange and oregano braised pork shoulder and pickles. Dobson’s Japanese karaage with its crisp, crunchy potato flour coating also looks too-die-for and we love fried chicken.
Most surprising dish When you think beer, big, beefy, carby dishes spring to mind, not light vegetarian fare. Who knew deep-fried soft tofu doused in chilli salt and wilted spring onions went well with a crisp golden ale?
Cook the book
1. Char sui (Chinese BBQ pork) [pictured above]
Recipes and images from Food + Beer by Ross Dobson (Murdoch Books, $45, hbk).