There are footballs, there are soccer balls, there are even golf balls but nothing compares to the competition surrounding meatballs.
In attempt to grasp the fervor, think of our southern neighbors. How seriously do they take their outdoor grilling? How tightly do they guard their secret sauce? The taste of the Sunday meatball will determine your status in the extended family. If there is even one meatball left at the end of a meal, unflattering comments will ensue.
Some families cook them in the sauce, some add sauce, my family likes them sauce-free and crispy. My mom said her mother added pignoli nuts and raisins to her meat balls. This recipe came from her hometown near Naples. Years later, I had an unpleasant boss who mentioned that his parents added pignoli nuts and raisins to their meatballs. I cringed. Could our families have come from the same small town? Or even worse, were we related?
The pignoli meatball never caught on in my parent’s house; my dad’s family recipe dominated. One Christmas, in my Levittown home, I was attempting to cook and keep my tiny granddaughter occupied, so I offered her a meatball on a stick. That has now become a classic addition.
Once, my college alumni were holding a meeting and requested we all bring a casserole. A casserole? My mother never understood a casserole; it was as foreign to her as round spaghetti in a can. Casseroles just did not exist in the Miello household. I did not know how to make one and kept procrastinating. Finally, the night arrived; I had nothing. I made meatballs. I decided I would concentrate on the purpose of the meeting and try to ignore the tuna casseroles with cheddar cheese.
Even though the meatballs weren’t on a stick, they were a major hit with this hungry alumni clan who said they liked my meatball casserole. Who knew?
My grandmother is gone now, but she has a new found celebrity through the proliferation of her meatball recipe. My son-in-law, a NYPD detective will do anything and go anywhere if I agree to make him meatballs. I like to send ricotta cookies and meatballs to his precinct; they are my heroes. Well, the cookies arrive, but not the meatballs. On many occasions, my son-in-law ate them all before he reached the police station. There was one incident when the meatballs did make their way to the precinct. He told me that one veteran police officer was infuriated because someone ate the last meatball. He wouldn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the night.
I smile to myself and think of Grandma Josephine. I am grateful to her not only for her heirloom recipes, but for the love she shared and the scary ghost stories she told us while sitting on her porch in Rutland, VT.