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I should start by admitting that I am not, in the least bit, of Italian heritage. We have a lot of German on one side and some Scots on the other and the rest is most likely a hodge-podge, much as is the case with a lot of Americans.
But, I grew up in an area of Upstate NY where at one time, the primary economic force was a company called Endicott Johnson, a shoe manufacturing company. Because it was relatively easy to find a decent job here, it was an area that attracted a lot of immigrants from various parts of Europe and immigrants from Italy were very well represented in that number. Growing up, it seemed there was an Italian restaurant on every corner – not at all a bad thing, I assure you.
We were Catholic, so as you might imagine, we knew a lot of the Italian families in our little town, and if you think having a lot of Italian restaurants is a fine thing, being invited to dinner by Italian families is even better. These wonderful Italian cooks were very generous with their recipes as well, which meant my Mom was also a very good Italian cook, even though no one in her family had likely ever been closer to Italy than a can of Chef Boyardee.
The meatballs my Mom always made, were called “Lee’s Meatballs”, because my Mom had gotten the recipe from Lee, and that is how it was labeled in her recipe box. I have only the vaguest memory of Lee herself, but her meatballs were, and remain, a thing of beauty. I have not changed them very much – they have more breadcrumbs now because Mario Batali says that Americans don’t use enough bread in our meatballs, and I always listen to Mario. I use fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, and I’m not sure the recipe has always had onions in it like it does now.For the most part though, this the same recipe that we enjoyed often while growing up.
- 1 & 1/2 pound ground beef round
- 1 & 1/2 pound ground pork
- 2 large eggs
- 1 medium onion minced
- 3 – 4 cloves of garlic finely minced
- 3/4 cup tomato sauce
- 3 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 20 grinds fresh black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried or 3 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley
- Place all ingredients in a large bowl, and use you hands to combine thoroughly.
- Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper and set the oven to 400º.
- I portion these with a large or medium cookie scoop so that they are a uniform size. Once you have them portioned, roll gently with wet hands to form smooth balls, and space evenly on the cooking sheet
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until they are cooked through and nicely browned on the outside.
- Remove to a plate or bowl to cool off and discard the accumulated fat in the pan.
- I like to use these by simmering in spaghetti sauce for a half hour or so, which allows them to permeate the sauce with their flavor, and then serving over cooked pasta.
- The meatballs can frozen for later use - wrap tightly so that they don't get freezer burnt.
Sadly, Endicott Johnson no longer exists – click on the link for the Wikipedia story about the company, which was pretty unique in this country. I even worked in one of the factories one summer, though my association with that factory was not long-lived, without doubt, in part, due to it’s proximity to a bar that served 10 cent draft beers at lunchtime.
These Italian Meatballs live on though, a fate which they richly deserve – I hope they’ll become a favorite of yours too.