Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs

February 9, 2018

These meatballs are really mystical if you consider the sway they hold on my husband, his brother, and his father.  They go wild for these meatballs.

Well, wild in that very restrained Northern Italian way.

If they were Southern Italian, where a dinner conversation can seem like a minor riot, their meatball response would barely register on the scale.  It would signal almost utter disregard for the meatballs.

But that, in fact, is not the case.  The meatballs hold some sort of magical, mystical charm.

Marisa, of course, is my mother-in-law and these are her meatballs.  She considers them quite unusual, having learned to make them from her mother and basically not remembering any other relatives or friends making something similar.

And, as meatballs, they ARE unusual!

An old-fashioned ricer is still an indispensable piece of kitchen equipment. Make sure yours is very sturdy. Many new ones are not.

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But here’s a secret that I haven’t told anyone yet.  They really AREN’T meatballs.  They’re croquettes!  Crocchette in Italian.

There, I said it.  Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs aren’t really meatballs.  But everybody in the family calls them “Ma’s Meatballs.”  “Ma’s Croquettes” doesn’t have the same alliterative allure, even if it’s more accurate.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law celebrating his birthday.

When I did a Google search for crocchette, Google turned up about 1,730,000 results in 0.51 seconds.  When I searched for crocchette patate e carne (potato and meat croquettes), Google returned 1,500,000 results in 0.72 seconds.

And that was doing searches in Italian!

I found a Japanese woman who seems to have the same relationship to her mother’s meat and potato croquettes (korokke) as my husband and his family have to his mother’s.


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The meat for these “meatballs” (a word I’ll use in deference to my husband and his family of origin) is boiled before being finely chopped.  This presents a perfect opportunity to make a really nice beef broth.  You don’t have to do that, of course, but since you’re going to be boiling the meat anyhow, and since it only takes a few extra minutes to throw some aromatics into the pot, why not!

The broth from the meat for the specific batch of meatballs shown in this blog is sitting in the freezer ready to be turned into Auntie Helen’s Stracciatella, which will be coming up on the blog next month.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Marisa's Mystical Meatballs
Marisa says she usually uses cross-cut beef shank for the meatballs. When we made them, she also a piece of beef she bought for soup so we used both. In the end, we got ½ pound of cooked beef, with fat and gristle removed. Adjust the proportion of the other ingredients if you get substantially more or less cooked beef. If you want to use just cross-cut beef shank, I would try about 2 ½-3 lbs. The beef is boiled and then finely chopped to make the meatballs, giving you the opportunity to make a really nice beef broth with just a few minutes more work.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Beef and Broth
  1. Cross-cut beef shank.
  2. Put the meat and all other broth ingredients in a large stock pot.
  3. Cover with abundant cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 4-6 hours, until the meat is very tender.
  5. Remove and cool the beef.
  6. Strain the broth and reserve for another use.
Meatballs
  1. Remove fat, gristle and bone from beef. You should have approximately ½ pound of cooked beef.
  2. Cook the unpeeled potatoes in boiling water until you can easily pierce them with the tines of a long fork or paring knife, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mince the garlic or grate it on a microplane grater.
  5. Combine beef, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
  6. Peel the slightly cooled potatoes. If they are too cool it will be difficult to rice them.
  7. Pass the potatoes through a ricer.
  8. Combine the beef mixture with the potatoes, nutmeg, allspice, salt and black pepper.
  9. Mix well with a large spoon or your hands.
  10. Add the lightly beaten eggs.
  11. Mix well using your hands.
  12. Form the mixture into 16 balls and then flatten them slightly.
  13. Lightly roll the meatballs in fine dry breadcrumbs.
  14. Pour ⅛ inch of oil into a large sauté pan.
  15. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.
  16. Fry the meatballs in two batches, on medium-high, flipping once, until brown.
  17. Drain on paper towels.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Totos (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies)

December 21, 2016

Homemade cookies and pastries were staples of my childhood.  Trays of cookies showed up for holidays, celebrations, weddings, funerals, and, sometimes, for no apparent reason.

My mother along with relatives and friends set up a cookie-making operation that went on every night for weeks leading up to my sister’s wedding.  The overseer was Annie Castagnola, a family friend.  She had a thin spiral-bound 3-inch-by-5-inch notebook of cookie recipes.  The notebook was the kind we used in grade school to write down our homework assignments.  Annie’s recipes were a curated collection gathered from a host of “old Italian women,” my grandmother included.

The little notebook was coveted by more than a few cooks.  Annie, however, did not share her recipes, even when those recipes came from relatives of the very people who were asking for them.  I know, my mother was one of those people who wanted some of her mother’s recipes.  Annie wouldn’t budge.  The situation got resolved, however, during the cookie-baking marathon for my sister’s wedding.  One night, Annie left her little notebook at our house overnight.  Nobody’s confessing, but there are a few cookie recipes in my mother’s recipe box (sitting on my bookcase) written in my twelve-year-old hand.

Annie died a while back.  Her little notebook is most likely gone forever and along with it the baking secrets of a whole group of “old Italian women.”

Of all the cookies that showed up throughout the year, my favorites were the various kinds of cakey cookies, my mom’s Genets, Aunt Margie’s aptly named “Colored Cookies,” and my cousin Angie Catanese’s Sesame Seed Cookies, to name a few.  These cakey cookies, which were not very sweet by American standards, were usually little balls but not always.  Genets are lemon flavored knots.  Colored Cookies are vanilla flavored balls, each made with four or five pinches of dough of different colors rolled together.  Sesame cookies are little logs, perfect for dunking into some Vin Santo.  For me, though, the best of these cakey cookies are Totos, little chocolate spice balls.

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Totos (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies)
These little chocolate balls are intended to have a good kick from an array of spices. Lard is the traditional shortening to use. I render my own. If you need these to be vegetarian, or you just don't want to use lard, you can use solid vegetable shortening. Heck, you can even use clarified butter but that is way off the traditional scale!
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen cookies
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen cookies
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Cookies
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the lard over low heat. When just melted, remove the lard from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg together. Reserve.
  3. Make the icing and reserve.
  4. Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled but still liquid lard and mix well until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be gritty. I recommend doing this by hand with a mixing spoon but you could use a portable electric mixer.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time to the sugar and lard mixture, mixing well after each addition. The sugar should dissolve as the eggs are added.
  6. Add the milk, honey, vanilla extract and lemon extract to the egg mixture. Mix until well combined.
  7. Add the reserved dry ingredients. At this point there really is no better option than to reach into the mixture with your hand and get everything well combined. The dough will be somewhat sticky. Be certain that all the dry bits are scraped off the bottom and sides of the bowl and combined into the dough.
  8. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls. If you want to weigh the first few to get the size correct, they should be between 21 and 22 grams.
  9. Space the cookies several inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are very slightly browned on the bottom but still soft when touched. They have a tendency to crack as they bake. This is normal. You can bake two trays at a time, one in the lower third of the oven and one in the upper third. Be sure to switch the top and bottom cookie sheets after five minutes and also turn them front to back.
  10. As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven, carefully put them on cooling racks.
  11. Ice them immediately by holding a cookie with one hand and using the tip of your finger to spread a dollop of icing on the top half of each cookie. The icing should be a glaze, not a thick coating. Put the iced cookies on cooling racks to cool completely.
  12. Well wrapped, the cookies can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen for several months.
Icing
  1. Melt the butter. Add the sugar, vanilla (or lemon) extract and 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix well. Add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, if needed, to make a thick icing that will hold its shape and spread well.
  2. It may be necessary to add a bit of milk from time to time if the icing stiffens up over the course of icing each batch of cookies as they come out of the oven.
Recipe Notes

Check out my method for rendering lard.

I prefer to grind my own spices using a small electric coffee grinder, except for the nutmeg, of course, for which I use a small grater. It is best to pass the ground spices through a small strainer to get out any small bits. If you don’t grind your own spices be sure to buy really fresh ground ones so the flavor is vibrant.

This recipe doesn’t involve any strenuous beating so the first few steps can easily be completed by hand with a sturdy mixing spoon rather than with a mixer. Similarly, after adding the dry ingredients, the dough only needs to be mixed enough to come together. This is easily (and traditionally) done with your hand though I suppose a dough hook would work, too.

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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