“Rosina! Rosina! Rosina!”
Rolling over bleary eyed in the bed that I slept in at my Nonna’s house, those would be the words that I would first hear, early on a Saturday morning. The source of the noise would be my Aunt Maria, shouting my grandmother’s name as she burst through the front door.
It was her Saturday greeting, and it would always wake me up.
As I cleared my head, the smell would hit me, the reason my Aunt came over in the first place. The combination of frying meat, onion, and garlic.
I’d jump out of bed and quickly descend the stairs to the beat of the sizzling frying pan. Still in my pajamas, I would stand patiently in the kitchen, waiting for Nonna to make the offering: my early breakfast treat of a freshly made meatball, straight out of the pan.
This image remains prevalent in my mind some forty years later, as I cook meatballs in my own kitchen.
Over time, my involvement with the meatball went from taking the sample in my pajamas, to preparation and cooking stages. As I grew, Nonna would allow me to mix the meat with my hands, form the balls, and taste the first ones before we continued.
Every once in a while, she would let me cook one. To get the feel for the hot spots in the pan, and to know when to roll them as one side began to form a crust.
As she grew older, cooking 90 to 100 meatballs at a time began to fatigue her, and she eventually just had to sit and supervise. It was then I took control of the pan. The torch had been passed.
Now that she is no longer with us, it’s my responsibility to ensure the meatball remains a staple of my family’s diet. Like her, I was a traditionalist with meatballs, pairing them with pasta, simmering them in tomato sauce along side braciole and pork.
I learned from my Nonna’s sister the joys of meatball experimentation, serving them as their own course, and using a different sauce than the ubiquitous tomato variety. Her sauce was a savory mixture of bacon, onion, and white wine, and is now my favorite way to eat a meatball. It’s a simple recipe, easy to simmer in a crock pot and a big hit at dinner parties as well. Enjoy!
Meatballs alla Nicolina ( “white” meatballs )
For The Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef, top or bottom round, ground twice
- 1 cup fine dried breadcrumbs (home made only!)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 medium onion
- 1 large egg
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- cup vegetable oil
For The Sauce
- 2 strips bacon
- 1 large onion
- 1 cup sherry wine
Crumble the beef into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, parsley and garlic over the meat. Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper in a small bowl until blended, then pour over the meat mixture. Mix the ingredients with clean hands just until evenly blended, and shape the meat mixture into 1 ½-inch balls.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Put as many meatballs into the skillet as will fit without crowding. Fry, turning as necessary, until golden brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Adjust the heat as the meatballs cook to prevent them from burning. Remove the meatballs and repeat.
Cut the bacon strips into small pieces, about 1/4 inch. Cook in the pan for 3 minutes or until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan. Slice the onion and cook in the bacon grease until onion is soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the bacon back and the wine, put your finished meatballs in the pan, and let simmer for 15 minutes, making sure to spoon some liquid over the meatballs to keep them moist. Serve with a crusty loaf of bread and a hearty red wine.
You will love it!