Marcella’s Op-Ed; Stewed Meatballs and Brussel Sprouts

Before I get to food, did you see Marcella Hazan’s op-ed in the New York Times the other day?

She bemoans the overuse of the word “chef” rather than “cook”, and what that means for food culture today. She misses “the old world of Mediterranean family cooking, a world where satisfying flavors had been arrived at over time and by consensus.” She then writes, “that world hasn’t disappeared, but it has receded, making room for a parallel world, one where food is often entertainment, spectacle, news, fashion, science, a world in which surprise — whether it’s on the plate or beyond it — is vital. This is the world of chefs.

That sounds a lot like the shift in the art world during the 20th century, where innovation and surprise took precedence over quality, or rather, defined quality.

I wonder how much of this is true in the food world; how deep does this penetrate, and is it restricted to the major urban centers? Yes, there is clearly a general fascination with molecular gastronomy today, and I celebrate the experimentation going on. I don’t think it threatens the core of cooking, but then again, Marcella does use the word “receded” not “replaced”.

Professional critics and writers, looking for new ways to keep themselves inspired in their trade, no doubt admire and appreciate surprise, but this attitude is by no means universal. If Top Chef can be viewed as a cultural bellweather, it is interesting to note that the judges love innovation but do not hold it above all else, otherwise Marcel Vigneron and Richard Blais would have won their seasons.

In any case, time for this cook to talk about brussel sprouts…

Stewed Meatballs and Brussel Sprouts

pork meatballs

I have a very simple dish to post today. Lord knows I love variations on stewed meatballs. My wife can’t stand hamburgers, which I jokingly say is un-American since she is, of course, not American! However, she loves these meatball dishes I play around with. In this case, I used pork and put brussel sprouts to very good effect.

I had 1 pound of ground pork leftover from Thanksgiving, and being in the mood to avoid turkey, I made small meatballs with the following mix, pulsed finely in a food processor:

a hunk of stale bread (crust removed)
half of an onion
1/3 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp ground cumin
a pinch of arbol pepper flakes
a tbsp of chopped fresh oregano (use less if using dried)

At the same time, I whipped up a quick tomato sauce, using canned tomatoes, onion, garlic and fresh rosemary (still alive in our garden, but it never survives the winter).

I washed and halved a dozen large brussel sprouts and pre-heated oven to 375F.

I browned the meatballs in a cast-iron pan, removed to a plate, and browned the brussel sprouts cut-side down for a few minutes, then gave them a big stir, added in the meatballs, poured the tomato sauce on top, and popped in the oven for 30 minutes or so.

The brussel sprouts taste a bit like braised cabbage here. Granted if you don’t like sprouts *or* braised cabbage, this combination is probably useless to you! Just toss those meatballs in with your pasta. However, in our household this dish was wolfed down by adult and Munchkin alike.

9 thoughts on “Marcella’s Op-Ed; Stewed Meatballs and Brussel Sprouts”

  1. I don’t like hamburgers either, or meatballs. Only MY meatloaf. don’t know why. It’s the “ground” beef thing.

    I define a chef as one who is trained in his field, who actually works at his craft.
    I am definitely a COOK. (you can say that word 2 ways, they both apply).

  2. That dish looks delicious! I agree with Stacey in defining a “chef” as someone trained in the field and who works in such a position regularly. I don’t think it’s a term that should be used loosely.

  3. I love to celebrate innovations, but most of the time, at the end of the day, it comes down to what I’m going to feed my family and what they will eat. Hence, I still call myself a “cook”. 😉

  4. I agree that a chef is really a trained professional.

    Stacey, if you make your meatloafs really small and round and wrap them in lots of bacon, you might like them as meatballs. 😉

  5. Humm, interesting post. I love Marcella Hazan, and I can see her point about “chef” vs. “cook” and to a large extent the mystification of cooking as a result. However, about art in the 20th century, let’s not forget that it wasn’t innovation for innovation’s sake, but a reaction to a fundamentally changed relationship with the world as a result of modern industrialization and the advent of huge city centers, among many other factors. And that artists have been accused of the same thing singe Giotto, at least. Even if it does seem that lately it’s all just shock value 😉

  6. Oh we could have a lonnngggg discussion about this one Andrea! I agree that those were root causes, and arguably it is all one inevitable path from the end of the church patronage system of supporting artists.

    But in the art market itself there was an incredible reversal of needing to fit in to be commercially successful (after all the original Armory show was a rebellion, which makes the current Armory shows a bit ridiculous in spirit), to needing to stand out to be successful.

    So while there can be lots of debate as to whether Duchamp was merely a prankster or taking out existential angst over World War I, much of the really interesting analysis might be in why the market changed what it valued.

    There have always been rebellious versus conservative artists. The market decided to focus on a new type.

    Of course as I write this I can come up with other reasons, contradictions, etc… it’s a marvelously complex topic!

  7. You make a good point about the Dadaists. I think often art historians don’t want to ascribe such developments purely to the art market because it’s so crass, in a way. Like, we don’t want art to be reduced to commerce, and I still think it’s only part of the development. It’s a bit like the chicken and egg question. But then the natural extension is Murakami’s Louis Vuitton bags being sold at Brooklyn over the summer. That’s contemporary art for you!

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