Every Sunday morning when I was growing up, my father would make spaghetti sauce.
He was very particular about it.
So particular, in fact, that he would argue with my mother about how it should be made, about how much garlic it should have in it, whether it should have a slice of orange in it or a pinch of sugar, whether there should be a pour of wine in it—you name it, they argued about it.
Eventually, my mother just gave in, and one Sunday, my father put something in the sauce that nobody ever expected.
Part of the ritual of making the sauce was making the meatballs and, of all things, tasting the raw meat before it was rolled into balls to be sure it had the exact right spices. This very special ritual was always left to me because I happened to like raw meatballs.
One particular Sunday, my father held a little morsel between his fingers and called me over to taste it.
“Well, what do you think, daughter?”
“It tastes like it has soap in it.”
“Soap! How could it taste like it has soap in it?”
“How do I know, Daddy. Did you wash your hands before you made it?”
He said of course he had washed his hands and he rinsed them too and that I must be crazy to think the meat tasted of soap and “what the hell” they’d be fine and started rolling the meatballs.
After browning them and adding the canned tomatoes to the pot, he put the mixture on the back of the stove to cook all day while we went out into the back to do yard work.
At one point my he told me to “go in and check the sauce” and when I did I was shocked at what I saw.
There was the big aluminum pot on the back of the stove with bright pink bubbles pouring out of it. They were piled up and spilling out all over the sides of the pot down the side of the stove and onto the floor.
“Daddy! There’s something wrong with the sauce.”
I’ll never forget my father’s face when he came running in the back door, the screen slamming behind him, as he stood there, looking astonished at the huge pile of pink soap bubbles coming out of his pot of spaghetti sauce.
“What the hell is this,” he said, walking over to the pot and peering down into it, “I Love Lucy?”
Turned out there was soap in the sauce and the best thing we could figure out was that my father, in the midst of an argument with my mother, had put soap flakes in the meatballs instead of breadcrumbs.
Long after my mother was gone, and after my father had stopped making meatballs because he was just too old to stand behind a stove cooking, I asked him to tell me exactly how he made them.
Here’s what he told me:
Let’s say you should get enough ground beef and ground pork to fill a cigar box. Get a low fat variety of beef but not a completely non-fat variety. Not enough flavor.
Put the meat in a bowl and break it up a little bit with your fingers then put in the spices and other stuff right on top of the meat.
About a half a cup of Italian bread crumbs. A quarter cup milk. One egg. One to two cloves garlic, crushed and diced. One to two tablespoons each dried basil and diced fresh parsley, it has to be fresh. A handful of hard grated cheese like Romano, salt and pepper.
With your hands, mix everything in the bowl all together and squish it up real good to be sure everything is incorporated. You want a mixture that is stiff enough to hold together when you roll it into a ball yet soft enough to cut with a fork when you eat it.
Take a chunk of meat a little bit bigger than a golf ball and put it in the palm of one hand, pressing firmly but gently with the other palm. Roll the meat between your open palms until it’s the shape of a ball.
Drop the meatballs into a hot cast iron skillet that you’ve poured some olive oil into and brown them over medium/high heat. Keep turning them with two spoons until they are brown all over. You’re not cooking them, they’re gonna cook in the sauce, you’re just browning them. I always like to make a little extra so that we could eat them off a fork and still have plenty to put in the sauce.
“And that,” my 83 year old father said, “is how you make meatballs. Be sure not to put any soap in them.”
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Emily Bartran