And now for something completely different.
Food and its preparation is undoubtedly one of the most important cultural contributors to our collective and individual identity. Growing up, it was always the women in my family who did the cooking and the cleaning up. The men were called to the table, and once the meal was finished, they quietly (or not so quietly) got up from the table to sit in front of the television to watch whatever sporting event was on. I never had the impression that the women in my family resented the lack of help on the part of the men. In fact, I think the women liked the time to either gossip of be alone.
In my own house, I do almost all of the cooking and my wife does the cleaning up. It is a perfect arrangement since I use all the pans in the kitchen and I hate to clean up. I do, however, love to cook, and I find it is a way to simultaneously relax and be creative. I do hate to bake, since baking requires very careful measures of ingredients. Cooking allows one the creativity to do almost anything one wants, and in millions of combinations.
One of the most wonderful smells from my childhood was the scent of onion and garlic frying in olive oil. This is the first step to making tomato sauce, and once the smell begins to envelop the kitchen there is really nothing like it. It is the strongest and most resonant line that leads me back to childhood.
Making meatballs is one of the easiest things to do. There can be no substitute for homemade meatballs, and, frankly, those who buy those hideous premade meatballs from the grocery store should be shot to death. Every household should have at least one recipe that goes back several generations. Here is one of mine. My grandmother made the most wonderful meatballs I ever had, and she learned from her mother in law. In turn, my grandmother taught my own mother how to make them, and I have since learned from her. However, I have adapted my family recipe to make these meatballs my own. So, here are the ingredients:
½ pound of ground beef (80% lean, because you want a higher fat content for flavor)
½ pound of veal
½ pound of pork
A word about the meat. Meatballs made with just beef are atrocious. The veal and the pork are essential if you really want that homemade taste and the flavor. I realize that there are some out there who do not eat pork (why? I have no idea) and veal for ethical reasons. My best advice is to either get over it or skip the meatballs.
1 cup of breadcrumbs (Progresso Italian Style Breadcrumbs work fine)
1/3 cup of grated Romano cheese (Romano has more of a salty flavor than parmesan)
Generous sprinkling of sweet basil, oregano, garlic powder, and parsley
Salt & pepper (not a lot of salt since you will get a salty flavor from the pork and the cheese)
One large egg
Extra virgin olive oil
In a large bowl combine beef, veal, and pork.
Add the egg
Salt and pepper
Add cup of breadcrumbs and 1/3 cup of grated Romano cheese
Add seasonings and olive oil (how much olive oil? A generous swirl around the bowl
You can either mix this by hand, or you can use a Kitchen Aid mixer, as I now do.
Mix until ingredients are well combined adding more olive oil to keep everything moist (about 5 minutes with a Kitchen Aid)
Roll meatballs into the desired size BY HAND! Please do not use an ice cream scoop, since that’s for amateurs—you don’t want the shape of your meatballs to be perfect.
With a pound and a half of meat you can usually make around 15 meatballs.
Now, many people like to fry meatballs in a shallow pool of olive oil. You can certainly do this, and if you like a crust to the outside of your meatballs, then I recommend frying. Over medium heat brown meatballs well. Test with a fork to see if done.
However, I have always baked my meatballs (this is how my grandmother cooked them) in a 350-degree oven on a cookie sheet with sides.
Place meatballs in the oven for 23-25 minutes.
One of the great treats is having two or three meatballs on a plate with a little bit of sauce and grated cheese right after they come out of the oven. Add meatballs to sauce and let simmer for twenty minutes.
That’s it! The entire process takes only about 30 minutes and you have a wonderful meal and a kitchen that smells out of this world. The most important thing to remember is to adapt the recipe to make it your own. Experiment with the quantity of ingredients, as you like. Cooking well is really about not being afraid to try new things. My recipe represents an idea of home for me.