Casa Mia

Casa Mia

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mom's Meatballs are the BEST!

I hate cheese. There, I said it. Who would have thought? I’m Italian, I love wine, the perfect accompaniment to cheese, and I cook, pretty good at that I must say, so what respectable cook doesn’t like cheese?

I don’t like the consistency of it. I’m told that when I was a baby, I literally gagged at those cellophane-wrapped cheese slices, factory-produced by the Kraft company. Why shouldn’t I? They were tacky, and yet slimey: my brother and sister used to take bites of them and stick them to their faces. Talk about gross! They were artificial looking: each slice was exactly the same size, bright orange in color, and conveniently packaged in 8’s, 16’s, and 24’s for every size appetite. And the taste – well, what exactly was the taste? Did they have a taste? All in all, they were just indicative of the era in which I was born in which white, doughy “American” bread and fake cheese sandwiches were a staple.

I don’t like the taste of cheese either, at least not the cheeses that my family ate like LOCATELLI ROMANO, our “macaroni cheese.” I hated seeing my father grate it onto a paper towel and then put it into an old peanut butter jar with holes punctured into the lid that was stored in the refrigerator. I hated it sprinkled on our Sunday platter of macaroni so much so that my mother made my dish separate from the rest of the family’s and for a long time, I wouldn’t help clear the macaroni dishes from the table for fear that my hand would accidentally touch the edge of dish where the remains of my mother’s delicious gravy had been intermingled with that disgusting cheese.

What makes cheese look, feel and taste so awful to me though was the smell – this overpowering quality was the key to it all. That grated locatelli cheese smelled so awful I couldn’t imagine enjoying a forkful of spaghetti that had any trace of it on it. I came home in tears from many a birthday party where macaroni and meatballs garnished with cheese, even bottled Parmesan, was served. My mother’s occasionally fancy dinners where she served gorgonzola with our salad, even though “on the side,” were totally ruined for me. On holidays, when a sharp piece of provolone was offered up to the family for antipasto as if it were some kind of gift, I kept far away from anyone who came close to the malodorous culprit in case its smell (as its smell) seemed to attach itself to them.

Yes, I hated cheese so much that there was doubt in everyone’s mind that I would ever make a meatball for my family when I married – after all, how could you be a good Italian cook without meatballs which of course, contained grated smelly, pungent, c-h-e-e-s-e. My mother marveled at how I would mix the meatballs with my hands, a requirement to the recipe’s success; my sister joked at the outcome, donating a little “meatballer” gadget to my bridal wishing well; and everyone waited with bated breath for the first invitation to Sunday dinner at my house. So, against all the odds, I made my first meatballs and though not like my mother’s, they definitely had legs. My husband’s family used Parmiggiano Reggiano on their macaroni and in their meatballs and because it didn’t smell too bad, and is much milder in taste than locatelli, I made my meatballs with parmiggiano – for years. I used a wooden fork to mix the cheese into the rest of the ingredients and when I thought it was safe, I used my hands to mix it completely. Sorry Mindy, I never used the meatballer…

The parmiggiano broke the ice and as my meatballing got better, so did my tolerance for cheese. I started eating mild cheeses like gouda and brie and before long, ventured into nibbling on chunks of parmiggiano, perfect with wine, and goat cheese. I still hate Kraft slices, but I will eat cheddar cheese. I hold my nose at provolone and try not to at those who eat it, but I love Jarlsberg. I can’t do gorgonzola on salad or otherwise, no matter how chic, but I will say that I have eaten pizza with “quattro formaggi” many, many times while I lived in Italy… (remember, it’s melted.) And although I will probably never eat locatelli sprinkled on my macaroni, I know it is the key ingredient to the golden brown, crunchy yet soft, salty, moist, absolutely best meatballs that my 78 year old mother still makes every Sunday. So I share the secret to their success with you but don’t breathe a word of it to anyone, especially not in their faces. You know, I guess I don’t hate cheese anymore.

Mom’s Meatballs
Follow these directions to the letter in order to get the perfect meatball, I mean down to the brand of bread and salt. Don’t scoff. Aside from using parmiggiano instead of locatelli, I’ve used Pepperidge Farm white bread and it’s not starchy or moist enough; I’ve used Italian sea salt and it’s just not salty enough. If your supermarket doesn’t have beef, pork and veal chopped, aka meatloaf mix, ask the butcher! All-beef meatballs are drier and too meaty tasting. Until I used these exact ingredients, my meatballs just weren’t like mom’s. Use your hands to mix the meatballs or you will get chunks of bread or garlic in a bite and please, PLEASE, don’t try to cut on time or calories by removing the frying from the process. If you don’t fry your meatballs before you drop them into the gravy, don’t come crying to me.

1 ½ lbs.Beef, pork and veal chopped
2 extra large eggs
8 slices Wonder American bread
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup parsley chopped
Morton Salt (approximately 1 ½ tsp)
½ cup Grated Locatelli Romano cheese

Put the ground meat into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and pepper and chopped garlic. Drop the eggs into the center and add the cheese and parsley. Taking two slices of bread at a time, run the bread under water and remove the crusts, then ball the bread slices to squeeze out the water. Put each of the sets into the bowl.

Using a wooden fork, mix all the ingredients until blended. Remove your rings and other jewelry that may be susceptible to catching food particles and finish mixing the meatball mix with your hands.

Fill a large frying pan halfway with corn or vegetable oil and heat. Meanwhile, roll the meatballs into the desired size. (We sometimes serve meatballs as an appetizer so we make them small; otherwise, roll them the size of a regular good old fashioned meatball.) When the oil is hot put in a few meatballs, but don't overcrowd them, and watch for them to brown before turning. You'll notice that they start to shrink a bit in size and can be moved around in the pan without sticking so you can add more. Don't walk away or do other things while the meatballs are cooking because, in a blink of an eye, they can go from being perfectly brown to becoming crunchy and then dry inside. Turn them on to the other side and cook until nicely browned on both sides. Remove and add another batch.

At this point, you can either add the meatballs to your fresh gravy or freeze them for future use. Stay tuned for tomato sauce recipes.

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