National Meatball Day is Saturday, March 9, the unofficial holiday to celebrate the delicious morsels that make many dishes so special. Whether you like meatballs with your pasta, in Italian wedding soup or in a sandwich, this is a holiday that you will want to partake in.
The origin of the meatball is unknown and many cultures have had recipes and uses for them for many centuries. The ancient Roman cookbook Apicius included many meatball-type recipes. Dozens of variations and methods of cooking are found in central Europe alone, but it is most often thought of as being quintessentially Italian, at least that is the perception in the United States.
For those who have not yet traveled to Italy, you might be surprised to know that you are unlikely to find a dish called spaghetti and meatballs on menus in the country. The Italian meatball is called a polpette and are primarily eaten separately from pasta. They are also made from meat or fish and are much smaller than their American-sized cousin. If you do find spaghetti and meatballs in Italy, it is largely to satisfy the cravings of American tourists.
The origin of spaghetti and meatballs began with Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. The majority of immigrants were extremely impoverished, but meat was far less expensive in America than in the country they left. Meatballs made with cheaper cuts of meat allowed the immigrant families to have meat on the table more often.
Now, when it comes to the sauce, marinara sauce originated in Naples and comes from the Italian word marinaro, which curiously enough means sailor. Since canned tomatoes were readily available at the local grocer, this became the base for the sauce.
Spaghetti was gaining popularity in this country by the dawn of the 20th century, but it was one of the few types of pastas available. So what became Italian American cuisine started with a base of Campanian food plus a lot of meat, minus many of the regional vegetables and cheeses of Italy. Even seasonings like garlic, hot pepper flakes and oregano became more prominent as immigrants assimilated into American culture. The dish has truly has become more American than Italian!
There is only one real way to celebrate National Meatball Day and that is to cook up a batch and have friends and family over. Everyone has their own favorite recipe, which is undoubtedly the best and making meatballs is a ritual that is now passed down through the generations. So whether you enjoy meatballs with gravy, baked, fried or in soups – make sure to celebrate National Meatball Day this Saturday!