I’m at Mumma’s at her place way Upstate on Lake Cayuga for the Easter weekend. We do not celebrate it for the religious but for the family of it. Though nowadays, we make up tradition, change, adjust and readjust it as we go along. This holiday, we’re not making up an enormous feast for the six of us that will be at supper tomorrow. The meal will center around lasagna and meatballs. Mum and me just made the meatballs and put them in the oven to bake. Her father, my grandfather, Nick, was a cook (or a chef in some kitchens) who made many meatballs and told Mum it doesn’t matter if you bake or fry the meatballs. Frying takes a lot of time and if you’re making them for a lot of feeders, then baking saves some of it. She said, he said, if you bake the meatballs really well in the oven, turn them over and let them brown, nobody will know the difference. The secret was in the browning. Some of that ‘brown stuff’ gets into the sauce. Mm, yumness.
Along with Nick’s meatball baking technique, today we are channeling the recipe of G(r)amma, Nanny–her mother, Catherine–her mother’s mother, and all the way back up the ancestral line of meatball and lasagna making women-folk, to prepare our meatballs. Mum let me know, though, that it was more on Nick’s side of the family that were the lasagna makers, not G(r)am’s so much. But they were all meatball makers..
Mumma’s version of G(r)amma-ray, Nanny and Catherine’s meatballs
(pronounced, while making them, as meat-a-balls-eh)
Should make enough meat-a-balls-eh for six at Easter dinner with some leftover to take home
Two and a half pounds of fresh-ground beef, about half and half 95% and 90% lean (G(r)am would use a pound of “chopped chuck” which was about 85% lean)
A few cups of Progresso Italian breadcrumbs
Half or quarter cup, “until it’s just enough moisture,” of whole milk, “or whatever you have,” Mum said (We don’t make wet meatballs; they’re going in the sauce later)
A cup or two of parmesan (lowercase p) grated cheese
About four tablespoons of fresh-grated good quality Parmesan (uppercase P) cheese
Five or six large cloves of smashed and chopped garlic
About a cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sprinkle plenty of Spice Classics Italian seasonings
Sprinkle enough McCormick black & red pepper blend hot shot
Sprinkle some McCormick oregano, crushed red pepper and sweet basil (Mum smiled at me and said, “You can never season too much”)
Preheat oven to 450°
Put the ground meat in a mixing bowl and with a fork, fork the meat to begin breaking it up. Add in breadcrumbs and fork to mix them together. When I took over mixing, after chopping the garlic and parsley, mixed the ingredients by hand. So you can do either, whichever you prefer, but this is a document of how Mum and me made the meatballs today.
Pour in some milk to help mix the breadcrumbs and meat. Next, the parmesan cheese amd mix; add the chopped garlic, mix; add the chopped parsley and mix. Next grate the Parmesan cheese right into the bowl and mix. Sometimes between adding ingredients and mixing, Mum would get a sneaky smile and add in the seasonings.
Now with chopping garlic and parsley complete and these added and mixed a bit into the meatball mash, begin mixing the ingredients by hand. Use the right hand, keeping the left clean to pick something up as needed without contaminating it. Inspect the colour of the meatball mash. Traditionally, in our family, a lot of breadcrumbs were used to make the meatballs go a lot further, and to add flavour. Add more breadcrumbs and mix and see that the colour is less fleshy-red and a bit more lighter-pink, even a bit tan in colour. The garlic and parsley were rough chopped so there’s uneven bits throughout the mash.
Line a pan with aluminum foil.
Once all the ingredients are added and mixing the meatballs mash is done, begin rolling meatballs. G(r)amma-ray, Mum tells me, made very small meatballs; another device for making them go further. “You’d think you were getting a couple meatballs but you really were only getting one,” Mum said. If you have a case of OCD, there is no place for it in rolling meatballs today. Roll some normal meatballs, maybe about two ounces or thereabouts; roll some little meatballs, maybe at about a half ounce or thereabouts. Laugh at the meatballs and enjoy yourself.
Wonder whether G(r)am and Nanny made meatballs together. Probably not. According to Mum, they both liked to be in charge in their kitchens. Tradition would have it, as Mum was a witness, to watch while G(r)am or Nanny made meatballs. A little plate of little meatballs with a little sauce on the side would be given a little girl version of Mumma. But she never got her hands into the meatball making, until she made them in her own kitchen. Thus, a new tradition of multi-generational meatball making is born on the day before Jesus rose like Easter bread on Sunday.
Pack the meatballs closely together in the baking pan so they all fit. Once the pan fills up with meatballs, sprinkle some breadcrumbs over top. The remaining little meatballs will line the sides of the pan and sit on top of meatballs where there’s just enough space for them. Spray some olive oil on the meatballs and sprinkle with more breadcrumbs.
Take pictures of mother and daughter smiling, or serious (like G(r)amma-ray was about her meatballs), each holding their collaborative meatball creation, tightly packed in a pan, before sending them into the hot oven to bake.
Let meatballs bake for a while on the center rack in the oven. “Just look at them while they’re browning,” Mum said to look and see when to turn them. The little ones on the top will brown quicker and need to be turned first. We also made quite a lot of meatballs, some extra, so be sure keep an eye on them. “They can brown a lot, but don’t burn them,” Mum said and asked me to keep watch while she showers.
Keep the meatballs in the oven baking until they’re brown. Tomorrow, we’ll put them in the sauce and let them cook for a couple hours. Try not to sneak too many meatballs before then. It might help to not brag about meatballs to sister when she returns from town, unless she’s not eating meatballs nowadays, in which case, rave on an on about your delicious meatballs.
At some point, turn the oven temperature down to 400°. Maybe the meatballs were quite moist, or maybe the oven is “off”, but they are taking a couple hours to bake. “It must be too much moisture,” Mum is thinking out loud. Overall, it seems they need to bake a couple hours. A lot of propane is going into these meatballs–they are not ‘green’ in that sense.
Pictures as promised…