Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fried Meatballs

(Editor's note: This week's contribution is courtesy of Dick Schuler, pictured here, originally of Oswego, N.Y., where his grandmother -- his Nana -- was famous in their neighborhood for her cooking, especially her homemade pasta drying throughout the house. Dick is now a resident of Minnesota and is the author of "An Italian Family Cookbook of Family Treasures." He describes his recipes as follows: "Each recipe has is own unique story and the best part is the book open with the family history of my grandparent’s journey from Italy to the U.S. in the early 1900's.")

By Dick Schuler

Nana’s three specialties were her sauce, homemade pasta and the ultimate family recipe, fried meatballs. The unique thing about Italian cooking is each family has a slightly different recipe. Our family sauce had several variations from household to household. Some of Nana’s siblings would use olive oil, some would use pork in place of beef. Nana did not add oil to her sauce so it was always seemed smoother and thicker. She would also change up the meat she would use in her sauce. She would use either ground beef, stew beef or meat balls.

Pasta was served twice a week in our house. I carry on that tradition of having pasta twice a week with my family. Nana would make her homemade pasta noodles the old fashion way. She used an old broom handle and the dinning room table as a work space. She would roll out large sheets of dough with the broom handle and with a knife cut the sheets into long strips. To dry them she would hang them over clothes bars, clothes line and the backs of chairs. The pasta would dry for a day before she would cut it into short lengths and send off paper bags of pasta to our relatives and friends. I can still smell the flour and egg mixture from the old house and hear her hands scrapping the dried dough and flour off the old broom handle between each stroke of the roller.

Our most popular and traditional food is our fried meatballs. For almost 100 years our family has been either frying or adding to the sauce these great flavorful treasures. It was my mother’s job to supply the meatballs at all the family gatherings.

The meatballs were the trademark food from our kitchen on old East Ninth Street in Oswego, N.Y. Everyone wanted to taste the meatballs whenever she made them and most of the neighborhood knew when she was frying them. The aroma of garlic would quickly spread out of the cast iron skillet and into the neighborhood. She was the master of the meatball recipe and my mother was second. My Uncle Joe would try to copy it but he could never get the same taste that came out of Nana’s skillet, I think he was light on the garlic. I was fortunate enough to help them mix and be part of the unique measuring process.

I can get the same results and duplicate the unique flavor to this day. See, the trick is when you add the garlic and you’re not measuring, you would add a little and taste the raw meat mixture until you hit the exact combination and flavor. People tell me I am crazy for eating raw hamburger but this is the only way to tell when you have added the correct amount. But to get this right you still need to know or have experienced the flavor before. Believe me there is no better smell or sound than the sizzling oil in the frying pan than that of meatballs cooking.

3 pounds ground beef
1/2 loaf of stale Italian bread
5-6 teaspoons of garlic power (be prepared to add more)
3 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups ground Parmesan cheese
1-2 eggs (start with one, if mix is too dry add a second

1) Start by breaking up the ground beef in a large bowl;
2) Take the bread and wet with warm water to soften but not saturate, wring any excess water out. Break up the bread into the meat;
3) Add the egg and mix in slightly;
4) Add the garlic, pepper, salt, and cheese. Mix thoroughly using your hands;
5) Now the tough part – taste the mix if you dare to determine if you lack anything. If anything you will need more garlic powder (experience tells me). Shake some in lightly covering the top of the mix and re-mix again. Repeat the test if you like;
6) Use your hands to shape and roll into individual meatballs
7) In a wide and deep frying pan add oil about ¼ inches deep. Preheat on medium and add meatballs. As you add them flatten slightly so they are not a true ball shape, this will allow them to cook more even;
8) Cook for 2 minutes and flip;
9) Once both sides are browned you should be OK to remove and place on a platter or bowl. I usually line the bowl with 2-3 paper towels to absorb any excess grease. Let cool and enjoy.
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