One of the first things I ever made and cooked by myself were meatballs. Not as part of meatballs and spaghetti though, just meatballs that were eaten alongside Kraft macaroni and cheese, since that was one of the other foods I could manage by myself. I was in the 6th grade, so I suppose I was around 11 or 12. Due to family circumstances, I was often responsible for cooking dinner after school, and meatballs appeared on the dinner table more often than not. At that time I made them simply, using packaged Italian-style breadcrumbs, an egg, garlic powder, and whatever ground beef my mother had indicated that I use. They were edible, which is the nicest thing I can say. But, they weren’t anything like my Sicilian grandmother’s meatballs. I loved my grandmother’s meatballs, deliciously carmelized on the outside, with a moist and flavorful inside – it was an experience to eat those meatballs, a gratifyingly unctuous experience. My grandmother could not read or write, so it was impossible to get an actual recipe. I would always watch her make them, taking mental notes as she went along. She worked quickly, and it was impossible to watch and write at the same time. I did pick up the key points, though. She used water to moisten the mixture, not milk. She mixed them gently with her hands, and she fried them slowly. My favorite way to eat them was with a piece of her homemade bread – nothing else, just that incredible meatball and a piece of bread.
Years later, more years than I care to admit, actually, meatballs are still part of my repertoire. The recipe has come a long way from the original. The key points I learned from my grandmother, along with other changes I’ve incorporated over the years have resulted in a meatball that I’m truly proud to serve to my family and friends. It’s the meatball in my meatballs and spaghetti, it’s the mini appetizer meatball, and in honor of my grandmother, it’s the meatball in my Sicilian Sliders, a grown-up version of my favorite way to eat them, just a plain meatball and a piece of homemade bread.
Meatballs aka Sicilian Sliders
1 1/2 lbs ground chuck
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
3 tablespoons finely minced Italian parsley
2-3 teaspoons basil chiffonade or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup tap water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
Hot, split rolls
In a large bowl, break up the ground chuck. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix gently with your hands. Allow the mixture to rest for about 15 minutes. Using an 1/4 cup ice-cream scoop, portion out the mixture onto wax paper; gently form into balls. You will have 18-20 meatballs.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add meatballs to the skillet. Cook for 10 minutes and gently turn over. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, covered, for another 5 minutes. Serve on split hot rolls.
*As I mentioned, these are the meatballs that I use in my marinara/tomato sauce. Add them to the sauce during the the last 45 minutes of cooking.
1 1/3 cups plain mashed potato (boil a peeled and cubed medium-sized potato until tender, drain, and mash with a fork)
1 package yeast, rapid-rise
3 1/2 cups flour
Scant cup of warm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, + 1 teaspoon, divided
1 teaspoon salt
Using a standing mixer, add the yeast to 1/2 cup of warm water, allow yeast to become foamy, about 15-20 minutes.
Add the mashed potato, the flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt. Use the paddle attachment and turn on low. As the dough mixes, slowly pour in the remaining water, until the dough comes together and clears the bottom of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 6 minutes. Remove dough and form into a ball. Place dough into a large bowl with the 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Turn dough over, coating with oil. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Portion dough into 16 pieces and form into small balls. Place on a parchment lined baking pan, cover and let rise again for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake in a 375 degree pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes.
Slice roll in half, add a meatball, and enjoy a Sicilian Slider in honor of Grandma Josie.