Josephine, daughter of Anna, taught me to cook in her tiny kitchen on Ruth Street. My grandmother was the child of immigrants, following the American dream across the Atlantic, all the way to Bridgeport, Connecticut. From Abruzzo the ancestors came by boat, older children caring for the young. I have seen their names etched at Ellis Island but cannot imagine my stout, stern nonni as a thirteen-year-old girl. Josephine did not stray far from her mother’s home. She can’t understand why those of our generation live so far away. Her attempt to keep us connected to family through food, stories and photographs is not at all unusual, but it took me many years to realize why it mattered. Cooking with my grandmother, I inherit simple wisdoms left unspoken. She shared her recipe for meatballs with me and I, in turn, pass it on to you, dear readers. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like sweet old nannas. And that’s just awful.
- 1/2 lb ground sirloin
- 1/2 lb ground veal
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1 cup very finely minced yellow onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (panko)
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- salt and pepper
- olive oil (for frying)
Step 1: In a large bowl use your hands to combine everything but the oil. Mix well, but not too well.
Step 2: Scoop up mixture with your fingers and roll into a nearly perfect sphere in the palm of your hand. This recipe generated 18 beautiful balls.
Step 3: In a deep-sided skillet heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then arrange meatballs in the hot oil. Fry on medium-high for a few minutes and carefully turn, using a rubber spatula, so all balls are completely browned and glistening.
Step 4: Turn off the gas and preheat oven to 350. Add 2 ladles of your favorite tomato sauce to cover the meatballs. The skillet then goes into the oven for 20 minutes.
At this point I like to burn my fingers removing the pan, though I recommend an oven mitt for all of you. I always split a meatball in half to make sure it’s cooked thoroughly, not at all pink but still juicy.
Serve with spaghetti.