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Santa Lucia Crowns a Meatball Master

By Casey Cora | March 26, 2013 8:37am

ARMOUR SQUARE — As you might expect, the recipe for the neighborhood's best meatballs is not a scientific endeavor filled with taste tests and precise measurements.

Instead, it's a recipe that goes by feel. A little of this, not too much of that.

"I knew mine were good this year," said Judi Liberti Massaro, of Bridgeport, crowned the 2013 Meatball Master at Sunday's Santa Lucia Parent Association's contest, the second of its kind at the Catholic school, 3017 S. Wells St.

Santa Lucia's longtime principal Geraldine Maratea — whose offerings didn't even crack the top three this year — said there were strict entry rules: No chefs and no disguising the meatballs in marinara or sauce of any kind.

Just straight-up meatballs, "all homemade by neighborhood and area people," Maratea said.

Massaro, 71, a former co-owner of the long-shuttered Papa Joe's Pizzeria and Goliath Pub on 31st and Halsted streets, tried to get cute at last year's inaugural meatball contest, using some unholy mashup of scattered recipes.

She didn't place.

This year, the grandmother of two used her own recipe for meatballs and they won over the panel of four judges, including John Schultz, owner of the stand-up lunch counter Mr. Spanky's.

He picked the Massaro's recipe for "best appearance, great texture and true authentic Italian flavor."

Other top finishers include parishioner Rosemary Wagner, who took second place, and Bob Dragon, who won third place. Dragon happens to be Massaro's son-in-law.

"He was OK with [taking third,]" said Chris Dragon, Bob's wife and Judy's daughter. "I’m sure he’d rather it be that way than the other way."

Sunday's event also featured a pasta dinner and raffle, which brought in money that will be used by the school's eighth-graders.

Here now, the recipe for the neighborhood's best meatballs, as told by Judi Liberti Massaro:

• Two pounds of ground sirloin. I don't put pork in my meatballs.

• A huge handful of grated cheese. It can be any kind, parmesan, romano. I used a mixture of parmesan, asiago, romano and another.

• Salt and pepper to your taste. I usually say a teaspoon of salt to a pound of ground meat.

• Parsley, chopped.

• Garlic, a lot.

• A little bit of milk, maybe a quarter cup. It mixes it well and keeps it moist.

• Two and a half handfuls of breadcrumbs.

• A little bit of crushed red pepper. Not a lot, just a little bit to give it a little zing.

• Three eggs. I beat them before putting them in the mixture.

• A little olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, in a pan. Brown them real good on all sides and keep turning them.