April 1, 2021
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A plate of food is more than just the flavors on the plate. It’s what we serve to our family and friends. It’s how we feed more than our stomachs, but our souls too — with memories that we can cherish for years to come.
My Grandma made the best Italian food, even though she’s Irish by birth. She married into a Sicilian family (my maiden name is San Filippo) and quickly picked up their traditions. My dad always told stories of growing up surrounded by family, with the women making trays upon trays of pasta, and laying them out on the beds to dry. And when I was a kid, no holiday was ever complete without my Grandma’s cooking, whether it be Italian sausages or — my personal favorite — her spaghetti, sauce, and meatballs.
My sweet and wonderful grandmother passed away this Summer, and when my sister came back to Chicago for a visit this Fall, we knew we wanted to honor and remember my Grandma by making her delicious meatballs and having a family dinner together. We used the recipe I’d scribbled down years prior when my grandma had dictated the recipe to me. And it was interesting to say the least, but quintessentially Italian (and European for that matter), as any guest during a cooking vacation to Italy will know. She’d given me the amounts of meat to use, but all the other ingredients? A pinch of this. A handful of that. A “little bit” of water mixed in with the breadcrumbs.
My sister and I just KNEW we weren’t going to get it quite right. But we tried. In the process we had a great time together in the kitchen — something we don’t get to do often enough, since we live on opposite sides of the country. At one point even, as we were forming the meatballs, we showed our dad our handiwork and asked, “Are these the right size?” My sister had rolled a meatball that was, I kid you not, the size of a softball. Making Grandma’s meatballs will take some practice, in more ways than one!
But then the meatballs started cooking, the amazing aroma filled the air, and we were all immediately taken back years to all those wonderful meals around the family table. When we feasted on our spaghetti and meatballs dish together, it didn’t taste quite the same as the meatballs Grandma made, but we all agreed: Grandma would have loved it, if only because she knew we were enjoying this meal together.
By Liz Hall
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