I barely knew my paternal grandmother, but through my father’s cooking I have always felt a connection to her. I have a blurry black and white photo of her whisking something or other that I hang in my kitchen wherever I go. And growing up my father’s go-to cookbook was always her tattered copy of The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto. Published in 1950, this cookbook is now out of print but you can find copies around (now everyone in my family has one; mine was a wedding present from my aunt, and is now one of my most cherished possessions).
Although Grandma Barbara was Hungarian, her husband, my Grandpa Angelo, was Italian. And so Italian classics were pulled from Lo Pinto’s simple and easy to follow guide and incorporated into her existing repertoire of goulash, paprikash and schnitzel. It is this combination of Hungarian and Italian, Eastern and Western European (with more emphasis on the Italian) that I grew up with and find most comforting.
Although I’ve made spaghetti and meatballs countless times, this time I decided to follow Lo Pinto’s recipe to a T, and I was happy I did. With the addition of soaked stale bread instead of dry breadcrumbs, the polpette were moist and tender. And the generous addition of Parmesan, garlic and parsley makes the meatballs incredibly flavorful on their own, suitable to eat by themselves. While I usually sear the meatballs and finish cooking them in tomato sauce, this time I cooked them through by themselves in the pan, until they had a nice crust. I spooned some tomato sauce over to keep them moist and give them additional flavor, and served the ultimate Italian-American way, with spaghetti and marinara sauce. Mangia!
Polpette (Meat Balls)
Adapted from “The Art of Italian Cooking” by Maria Lo Pinto (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1950; Out of print)
Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
3 slices stale bread
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 to 3 eggs, slightly beaten
Salt and pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
Soak bread in water 5 minutes; squeeze dry. Mix thoroughly with meat, grated Romano cheese, garlic, and parsley. Add the eggs a little at a time until the texture is right (very moist, but not too wet). Add salt and pepper to taste. Shape into balls about the size of a small egg; roll in flour. Fry in hot oil 10 minutes or until golden brown.