Ground swell

Here's a completely new cookbook micro-trend:  ground meat.  To me, it seems surprising because meat cookbooks have been, if anything, increasingly DIY in recent years. There are smoke-and-cure books, and sausage books, and books dedicated to one kind of animal, and books dedicated to offal.  Diagrams of livestock sectioned into their primal cuts abound.  But only now do we see a focus on ground meat, that most basic of processed proteins.

There are three new books I'm thinking of: the first is James Villas' From the Ground Up, which goes on a world tour of forcemeats, meatloaves, spreads, and fillings.  If you've always wondered how they make Scandinavian Jellied Veal Loaf, or you've misplaced your recipe for Viennese Liver Dumpling Consommé, why, help is on the way!

The other two ground-meat books that caught my attention this week are more focused in scope; that is to say, they're meatball books.  One's a retail tie-in, spun off from the Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  These are mostly western-hemisphere variations on the classic meatball (think Jambalaya and Bouillabaisse balls).  There's a section on vegetables, and a generous selection of cookie and ice cream recipes, as if to say, Man cannot live by Meatballs alone.

The last book I noticed, and of the three the least mannered, is Rick Rodgers' unfussily titled I Love Meatballs! Despite his no-frills presentation and tireless, machine-like output, I've learned not to underestimate Rodgers' way with flavors.  The one recipe I tried was a Chinese Shrimp Ball Soup.  A clear broth with bean threads, it was good enough to enter my regular rotation.

So next time you're at the meat counter, don't feel you have to resort to lamb tongues or quail wings to show some culinary innovation.  There's a whole world of recipes just waiting to be explored, one readily-available, ground-up half-pound at a time.

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