Christine adds an egg to her meatball mix, along with garlic and onion powder. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

My meatball recipe calls for both onion powder and garlic powder.

There, I said it. I don’t like the texture of chopped garlic and onions in the finished meatballs if I add them raw and I don’t always have the time to sauté and cool these alliums before stirring them into the raw meat mixture.

So it’s a shake, shake, shake situation in my kitchen when I’m making the meatballs.

As someone who works in and around the world of artisan bread, farmstead cheese, heirloom vegetables, sustainable seafood and grass-fed meats, some of my more zealous colleagues might cry “cheater!” when they learn this fact of my life. But the fact of the matter is that no matter how many fresh onions go into the pot or how much fresh garlic I add as well, having some of the powdered stuff in the mix also adds a little something of its own. That would be a deeper, richer flavor.

I am certainly not alone. My meatball recipe is based on my mom’s meatball recipe. And she’s in widespread company in her unapologetic use of powdered alliums. Analysts say the global onion powder market stands at just under $10 billion today and will grow to be more than $11 billion by 2029.

The United States is the world’s largest producer of onion powder, some of which is bottled for consumer use, but most goes to manufacturers who make soup packets, sour cream and onion potato and corn chips, salad dressing and particularly oniony onion rings.

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China produces 80 percent of the world’s garlic powder, the market for which is about a quarter of the onion powder market.

Dehydrated garlic, shallots and leeks that will be ground into powder. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

To process raw alliums, they are first dehydrated and then flaked, ground slightly into granules, or ground finely into powder. High quality dehydrated onions and garlic are peeled and sometimes sliced before being dried. Boutique spice merchants might toast the dehydrated onions and garlic before grinding them up to make them have a caramelized taste. Lower quality ones also can include skin, stems and roots, which cuts down on waste but also changes the flavor. But most conventional products include fillers and anti-caking agents.

It’s been a while since the weather was cool enough for me to want to make meatballs, and I’d forgotten that the last time I made them I’d used up my Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants supply of both onion and garlic granules. But I did have fresh onions and garlic from a farm share, so I peeled, sliced and spread them out on parchment-lined baking sheets. Then I slid the tray into the oven, set to as low as it would go and with the convection fan running to circulate the hot air. When they were completely dried out (the garlic after about 45 minutes and the onions after 90 minutes), I cooled them completely and then ground them to a powder using my spice grinder. The resulting powder was a small amount (about 3 tablespoons of onion powder from one large onion and a scant 2 tablespoons of garlic powder from a whole head of raw garlic). Like when you toast cumin or coriander seeds and then grind them right before you use them, these powders were both potent with a slightly sweet, caramelized edge to them.

I don’t think I can ever go back to the bottled stuff because these DIY powders are simply that good.

Homemade garlic and onion powders are more potent than the store-bought versions. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Christine’s Meatballs with Tomato, Onion and Garlic Sauce

Makes 15 meatballs and 1 quart of sauce

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FOR THE MEATBALLS:
Olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground meat (I use a mix of beef, pork and veal)
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 small can of anchovies in oil, chopped
1 medium onion, diced small
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves

To make the meatballs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a large baking sheet with olive oil. In a large bowl, add meat, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, eggs, garlic and onion powders, oregano, salt and pepper. Use your hands to very gently combine the ingredient so that they are well mixed. Form the mixture into 15, 2 1/2-inch balls, placing them on that prepared baking sheet. Slide the sheet into the oven. Cook until they are just cooked through, 20-25 minutes.

While the meatballs cook, place the chopped anchovies in a heavy bottomed sauce pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Stirring constantly, cook until the anchovies dissolve and the alliums become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook while stirring for another 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano and bay leaves, reduce the heat to low.

When the meatballs are just cooked through, transfer them and any pan drippings into the tomato sauce. Let them simmer together for at least 30 minutes before serving over hot pasta.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Christine’s meatballs with tomato, garlic and onion sauce over fettuccine. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


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