Lasagna inspires fear and awe. If you make the best lasagna in your clan, you will probably never spend Christmas alone. But the real measure of an Italian cook's skills?
Meatballs. Remember in the movie Prizzi's Honor, when Jack Nicholson told Anjelica Huston to go home and practice her meatballs? All the non-Italians in the theater laughed.
A perfect meatball is the jewel in the Italian cook's crown. Second only to sauce, meatballs rule. Like sauce, meatballs are unique to the Italian person making them. (Swedish meatballs don't count. Yes, they are made of meat and they are balls, but that's where the similarity ends. You eat them with toothpicks, for God's sake.) And like sauce, nothing will ever taste as good as the meatballs you grew up eating on Sundays. Your mother's sauce and meatballs will program you genetically as far as Italian food goes, which is why Italians don't eat in Italian restaurants and Italian couples yell at each other a lot.
Me, I had a conundrum when I married my husband Anthony, because his father-the-restaurateur's meatballs were better than my grandmother's meatballs. Or let's just say, so my grandmother doesn't give me the malocchio from Beyond, that the two recipes are very different. Were I to choose, I would make my grandmother's recipe for Christmas, and my father-in-law's recipe for everyday, which should appease their spirits without me having to get up and go light a candle.
I'm giving you my father-in-law's recipe here because there is one awesome advantage to this recipe: You can also use it to make a meatloaf. For this alone, you should make a shrine to me in your dining room.
2 lbs. of meat loaf mix, which means half beef/half pork
6 slices of bread (trim the crusts, run the bread under water, and then squeeze the excess water out with your hands)
1/2 cup of grated romano cheese
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup of milk
1 big clove of crushed garlic
2 tsp of loose beef bouillon, NOT the cubes!
3 TBL of parsley
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of black pepper
1/2 tsp of basil
Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl with your nice clean hands. When it's mixed, you got two choices:
- Roll into balls and fry the balls in olive oil until they're real brown,
- OR pack it all together and throw it into a meatloaf pan and bake it. Depending on the size of your pan, this recipe will make one or two meatloafs. (Should that be meatloaves? Doesn't sound right.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for an hour.
If you choose to fry them, here's a tip my father-in-law gave me: flatten out the balls a little, so they cook better. And for the record, we never put these babies in sauce. They're always on-the-side.
And one last piece of advice: If you're out to impress somebody, like you're in a meatball contest or something, use fresh-grated romano cheese and fresh parsley. You'll win.