Meatballs are part comfort food, part super food that go from everyday to gourmet with just a slight adjustment to ingredients. They're one of the hottest trends in restaurants, and in Chattanooga, diners are driving from all parts of town for meatballs at one of the North Shore's hottest new eateries, Red Sauce, says chef Adam Marro.
Meatballs got their start in Italy when some ingenious cook mixed meat with spices and rolled it into a ball. The fact that Marro's family roots are planted in Sicily make him, a native of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York, rather an expert in what it takes to elevate the status of a meatball from simple to superb.
We recently talked with Marro about his culinary career, his favorite person to cook for and a simple pasta recipe for home cooks.
Q: Where did you go to culinary school?
A: New England Culinary Institute. After I left Flatbush, I moved to Tampa [Florida] and worked there, as well as a few other cities before I came to Chattanooga in 2009.
Q: What places have you worked?
A: Everywhere from Carnival cruise lines to Club Med to dive bars. In Chattanooga, my most memorable job was chef at Root Kitchen and Wine Bar. But my own side project was starting Ugly Boys Barbecue. I am grateful to Virginia Cofer [Petunia's Silver Jalapeno], who taught me how to cook my favorite food — barbecue.
Q: Who influenced you to pursue a culinary career?
A: My mother — she was very picky about food. My father and mother said if I didn't like what was on the plate in front of me, then I would have to cook for myself. So I did.
Q: What did you have in mind when you developed the menu at Red Sauce?
A: I collaborated with chef Andrew Platt (Ceniza) and Danny Alcala (Ceniza and Red Sauce owner). Danny is the visionary, and I'm the man who makes it come to life. I love making any new recipes.
Q: How do you come up with new recipe for meatballs? What's the trick — just mixing a bunch of ingredients together and see how it tastes or what?
A: Well, as any chef who has spent years of working with food, you have an idea of what goes with what. But it's a lot of trial and error.
Q: Red Sauce is an Italian restaurant, after all, so you have more on the menu than meatballs. It's said you make an excellent lasagna. Do they order more of that?
A: It depends on the night. My lasagna is simple with fresh ingredients. I think that is what makes it so good. We make it in small batches every day.
Q: How does Red Sauce differ from other Italian restaurants in town?
A: We're more than just Italian food. We're a culture, a childhood memory of a different time, a throwback to the time when family and friends valued the time spent with each other.
Q: What's been the most interesting part of opening a new restaurant?
A: I think it's the hope that all the hard work is received well by the public.
Q: And has it been?
A: People seem to be enjoying what we are doing. I guess our most popular are either the classic beef-and-pork Sunday Balls or one of our own special creations, like the Bada Bing Bada Boom balls.
Q: What's your favorite Italian dinner to order when you go to an Italian restaurant?
A: Chicken piccata.
Q: If you could cook for one particular person, who would it be?
A: My wife. She deals with the long hours and all that comes along with being a chef.
Q: What's one of your Italian dishes you make at home?
A: Linguine with cherry tomatoes and cream sauce. It's very simple. Any protein may be added, like seafood or chicken.
Linguine With Cherry Tomatoes and Cream Sauce
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove garlic, minced
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ounces white wine
1 ounce lemon juice
2 tablespoons pesto (homemade or store-bought)
cup heavy cream
4 ounces cooked linguine
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil in skillet until hot. Add garlic and tomatoes, and saute for 1 minute. Do not let garlic burn. Add wine and lemon juice, and reduce by half. Add pesto and cream; reduce by half. Toss in pasta, and season with salt and pepper. Pour onto plate, and serve hot.
Note: Any protein, such as chicken or seafood, may be added.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.