Last week I told you about how March is National Sauce AND National Noodle Month, along with telling you the tale of how I created my own Meat Sauce Recipe. You can read that here. This week's part of The Cooking With Feeling: The Primary Feeling Being Anxiety Series is about How a Recipe for Pasta and Meatballs Became a Legacy.
I don't remember how old I was the first time I rolled a meatball. If I were to guess, I'd say I was between the ages of 4 and 7. My Mom can't recall the first time I ate a meatball. She says my brother, Tony, was 2 months old when he ate his first meatball. My niece, Gigi, wasn't more than a few months old; she cried the first time she ate a meatball. I have it on video. However, my nephew, Ricky, started eating them and so far hasn't stopped - he's a machine. In my mind, my Dad was born with a meatball sandwich in one hand. My Grandpa Tony was a full-blooded Italian, the son of two Italian immigrants who left their home in Terravecchia, Italy, for a better life in Iowa. He ate meatballs twice a week from, I'm assuming, birth until my Grandmother was unable to cook anymore. Clearly, meatballs are a staple in my family. They are also a rite of passage.
If I had to estimate how many times Grandma Dorothy made meatballs during her lifetime, the total is somewhere over 3,300 times once you add in holidays and special occasions. According to my Dad, she made the meatballs on Saturday morning and served them on Sunday and again on Tuesday. Here's the kind of funny thing, Grandma wasn't Italian; she just married one. She learned to make meatballs from her Mother-in-Law, Grace Giudicessi (Grazia Scarcello) after she and my Grandpa Tony got married in 1948. My Great Grandma Grace couldn't read or write, which means my Grandma was likely the first person to write down the recipe. It is possible my Grandpa's sisters or sisters-in-law may have written the recipe down before Grandma. But, as I mentioned in the previous blog, Italians don't write down recipes; they just know when it's right.
I don't often talk about my life BS, no, not bullshit - Before Shari, because Shari is a massive part of my life and the person my Dad has spent most of his life with. May 13th, 2022, will mark 28 years of marriage for them. I do know that no one denies what life Before Shari was, so I'll openly talk about it for a little while. My Mom and Dad got married in November of 1970 while my Dad was in the Army. My Grandma had written the Meatball Recipe down for my Dad when he joined the service; she didn't want her boy to have to go without meatballs. My Mom spent time in the kitchen with my Grandmother, learning from her mother-in-law how to make the family meatballs, just as Grandma had. This meant that I grew up with meatballs, and I didn't have to go to Grandma's to have them. It also meant that I learned how to make meatballs from more than one person. I had my Mom and my Grandma to teach me the art of rolling a meatball. Mom's recipe for both sauce and meatballs is a more than bit spicer than Grandma's. However, Mom can still make Grandma's recipe from memory when necessary. This comes in handy at holidays when it's time for Pastachiena. It also meant that when Grandma couldn't cook anymore that Mom could help me make the food my Grandfather loved, so he didn't have to eat 'that American garbage' all the time.
Spending time in the kitchen with my family is one of my favorite things. Mom and I are lucky enough to do it a lot because we live together and honestly eat at home more than the average person. Quality time in the kitchen with Tony is one of the best ways to spend a day and something I don't get to do nearly enough. He is one of the most intuitive cooks I've ever learned from. He just knows what to do without even trying. My Dad has mastered the art of meat sauce and is likely where I got my skill to make the perfect frozen pizza - it's a great skill to have, trust me. Shari makes magic mashed potatoes. It doesn't matter how many pounds of potatoes she uses, there is never a lump in sight. I thought it was genetic because her Mom can do the same thing; her Grandma Grace could too. Turns out I learned it through osmosis or just by eating pounds and pounds of the magic mashed potatoes.
After my parents split, l occasionally spent time with my Grandma as she prepped the Pastachiena for holidays. Pastachiena, for those curious, is a casserole made of TINY meatballs, mostaccioli pasta, sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and hard-boiled eggs. It seems weird to the unlucky (those who are not Italian), but it's one of my favorite meals. I didn't do a lot on those days, but it allowed me to spend time with my Grandma learning from her. Watching her roll those tiny meatballs was mesmerizing. She was a machine. I've never been able to make them even half as fast as she could.
So today, I celebrated National Meatball Day by rolling 3 pounds of meatballs in between doing design work, scheduling posts for clients, and writing this blog. My Mom made the sauce earlier today as I worked. Tomorrow, I will deliver meatballs to my Dad so that he can have a meatball sandwich for lunch. Saturday, Mom will take meatballs for Ricky to eat while she babysits and patties for Fried Meatball Sandwiches to Tony. Fried Meatball Sandwiches are not something I enjoy, but it is the only way Tony gets meatballs without fighting his kids for them. Working today and smelling sauce coming from the kitchen has been heaven. It's a smell I wish I could bottle.
What could be viewed as a simple recipe of ground pork, eggs, spices, cheese, and breadcrumbs became a legacy at some point in the last 100+ years. It is my legacy now. I get the honor of carrying the tradition on and ensuring that it gets passed down to my niece and nephew the way it was passed to Tony and me. It's more than a pot of sauce and some meatballs to me. It is history and love and a delicious way to remember those who came before me.
Peace, Love, and Pasta!