Many of you may remember the post in which I struggled with coming to terms with my grandmother’s terminal illness (and the shockwaves running through my family at the news), eventually finding solace in cooking. Well, tomorrow I’m flying back to Canada again, as it appears my grandmother has only a day or two left, to spend some time with my family and say goodbye. It seems fitting, since I wrote about her cooking at the beginning of her illness, that I should revisit it at the end – as food and cooking were always so integral to who my grandmother was.
It was so moving to get so many comments and stories from other readers who have been in a similar situation, and it truly speaks to how much food and eating can bind us together as families, create tradition, and ensure we have a solid foundation when life throws a curveball.
If there is one dish that could said to have created the most solid of solid foundations amongst my family, it would be my grandmother’s meatballs – her culinary masterpiece exalted by all around. At large family dinners the meatballs were always the first to disappear, and people might drive for hours if they heard she was making them. They were my favourite food in the whole world for my first 16 years on this planet, and remain my ultimate comfort food.
The recipe originally came from my paternal great-grandmother who came to Canada from Italy and never learned to speak English. When my grandfather married my grandmother, she learned to cook them, but of course the recipe was altered slightly to accommodate 1950s and ’60s culinary techniques: garlic powder over real garlic, freeze-dried Parmesan, dried ‘italian seasoning,’ tinned tomatoes. It was kept secret for years and years – although sometimes I think my grandmother never taught anyone specifically cause no one asked. When I was 13 I plucked up the courage to ask for the first time, and she told me over the phone.
Over the years I’ve altered the recipe to suit my own style, and tried to bring it back to what I interpret as its ‘original’ state, in so much as I’ve substituted fresh ingredients wherever I can – freshly grated Parmesan and fresh basil for example. Once or twice I’ve even made it from hand-peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes. But strangely, it never seems to taste as good as hers… although that’s never the case with food from grandmothers, is it?
I love you Nana, and I’ll miss you.
Nana’s Spaghetti and Meatballs
For the Meatballs:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
liberal handful of freshly grated parmesan
1 small bunch of fresh basil finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp Italian seasoning (or equal parts dried oregano, basil and rosemary)
For the Sauce
2 large tins of crushed tomatoes
1 small tin tomatoe paste (or puree)
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
Combine all meatball ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. Let sit for 1 hour.
In a pot combine all ingredients for sauce (without chopping garlic or onions) except fresh basil and blitz with a hand blender.
Roll the meat mixture into largish meatballs and plop into the sauce. Then, without stirring, put them on the lowest heat possible, DO NOT TOUCH OR STIR for 2-3 hours. Then return, and skim off the fat into one of the tomato tins. Add whatever veggies you want (I usually put in mushrooms, green pepper and fresh spinach) along with the fresh basil (roughly torn) and let simmer for another hour or two.
The longer you simmer the more tender the meatballs will become! Also, if you eat all the meatballs, and still have sauce leftover, then throw in a fresh batch of meatballs and make yourself even more delicious sauce!