–by Jennifer Ruple
PUBLICATION DATE: March 05, 2019
My brother and I were lucky kids to have known and been able to spend a good part of our childhood with four grandparents. Back then, we lived close enough that we could visit often and even get to have sleepovers with them.
We were also fortunate to have come from a family with lots of culture. Our mom’s mother was Polish and her father, German. Our dad’s mother is Italian, and his father was Native American and maybe a little French. For me, I was both fascinated and proud that I was made up of a little of each of my grandparents.
Like many in-laws, our two sets of grandparents had different traditions in terms of holidays and food. They did, however, have a few things in common, one being the fact that both our grandmas could cook… well. On holidays, our Polish grandma would treat us to kielbasa, pierogi and babka, and our Italian grandma would make us lasagna, veal scaloppine, cheeseballs, and pizzelle, traditional Italian waffle cookies flavored with anise seeds.
Unfortunately, the recipes for some of these dishes are tucked away and yet to be found. However, my grandma, Ann McGrath, is always happy to be my consultant on Italian food. Here are our notes on how to prepare some of the dishes our family enjoyed when we were younger and still enjoy today.
Mangiamo (Let’s eat!)
This sauce is a good base for many Italian recipes. “You can add good flavor to the sauce if you cook your meatballs or Italian sausage in it,” said McGrath. “You can even cook skirt steak in the sauce. Lay the skirt steak flat, top it with sliced onion and green pepper, roll it up, brown it in olive oil and then add it to your sauce.” McGrath also notes that adding a little sugar to the sauce helps to cut the acid.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, or more
Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
28-ounce can tomato puree
15-ounce can tomato sauce
6-ounce can tomato paste
1 medium green pepper, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil
In a large stock pot, heat olive oil. Saute garlic. Add remaining ingredients to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, then simmer sauce for 3 hours. If the sauce seems too thin, remove the lid from the pot and sauce will thicken.
“There are many ways to make meatballs,” said McGrath. “You can use all beef, half beef and half pork, or a combination of beef, pork and veal.” The ingredients listed below are per pound of meat.
Makes 10 meatballs
1 pound ground beef or a mixture of ground beef, veal and pork
1/2 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Small bowl of water
Extra virgin olive oil for frying
In a large bowl, add the ground meat through the parsley. Using your hands, mix together ingredients until well combined. Do not overwork the mixture, or the meatballs will be tough.
Roll mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls. If the mixture seems a bit dry, add a few splashes of water to it. The meatballs should glisten, but not be dripping wet. “Adding water to the mixture is the secret to soft meatballs,” commented McGrath.
In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium. Brown meatballs in small batches, turning them every couple of minutes and just long enough to get a nice even “crust” around them. Meatballs should not be cooked all the way through at this point.
Drain meatballs on paper towels.
In a large sauce pot, heat pasta sauce. Add meatballs to sauce and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until cooked through.
McGrath recalls, “On Friday nights, my mom would make fish. My dad liked the fish; however, not everyone else in the family did, so my mom would make cheeseballs. If you didn’t eat the fish, you ate the cheeseballs.” “You can make them ahead of time and freeze them. Just don’t add them to the sauce until you are ready to eat them. Use cheeseballs in place of potatoes or pasta; you don’t need another starch.”
Makes 8 cheeseballs
8 slices day-old Italian bread with good texture
3 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, or a mixture of
1/4 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1-2 tablespoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for browning
Remove crust from bread slices and tear bread into small pieces.
In a large bowl, combine bread pieces and the remainder of ingredients, except for the olive oil. Shape mixture into about 8 patties,
1/2 inch thick.
In a large skillet, heat oil. Brown patties on both sides then continue cooking in tomato sauce.