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Passport & Plate - Swedish Meatballs

Sweden | Friday, 6 March 2015 | flickr photos

for the meatballs
2 TB unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely minced
2 slices of sandwich bread, torn (about 2 cups)
? cup whole milk
1 lb ground beef (80/20)
½ lb ground pork (80/20)
2 egg yolks, beaten
½ tsp allspice, ground
½ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
½ tsp white pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
vegetable oil for frying
a few sprigs of parsley, torn or roughly chopped

for the gravy
3 tb unsalted butter
3 tb flour
2 cups beef broth (sodium free, or reduced sodium)
1 tsp champagne vinegar
¼ cup light cream


How to prepare this recipe
Make the Meatballs

Melt the butter in pan over low heat and add the onion, stirring occasionally until the bits are soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let those onion bits hang out for a while.

Place the torn bread in a small bowl and pour the milk over it. Let the bread absorb all the milk. After 5-10 minutes, you should be able to pulverize the bread further, easily, with your hands.

In a large bowl, add together the ground meats, egg yolks, spices, pepper, salt, and those now cool onions and that pulverized milky bread.

Mix ingredients together with your hands until everything is well incorporated.

Take heaping tablespoons of the meatball mix and roll into rounds. This recipe makes soft meatballs; don’t be afraid, but do be gentle.
In a heavy bottomed pan with tall sides, pour enough vegetable oil to come ¼ - ½ inch up the sides. Heat oil over medium-low heat until a drop of water sizzles upon contact. Place your meatballs in the oil and keep them moving so that they brown evenly all over. In 2 or 3 minutes, they will be cooked through. Move to a wire rack placed over a pan to drain. Place cooked meatballs in a warm oven so they stay cozy while you’re preparing the gravy.

Make the Gravy

In a pan over low heat, melt the butter.

While whisking continually, sprinkle in the flour. You’re making a roux, and it will start to darken. Keep whisking until it reaches golden brown.

Dribble in the beef broth, still whisking. After it’s completely incorporated with the roux, you can crank the heat up a bit to encourage the gravy to reduce.

When the gravy has thickened to the consistency you like, turn off the heat. Whisk in the vinegar and light cream. Season to taste.

Take your meatballs out of the oven and put them in the serving vessel of your choice. Pour the gravy on top, and garnish with parsley if you’re into that. Serve, smile, enjoy.


The story behind this recipe
Meatballs are pure comfort food for me. Simple ingredients, mixed by hand, warm and savory. These Swedish versions represent one of my earliest food memories, part of the spread my Nana (who had some Swede running through her veins) would lay out during the holidays. I recall discovering them one Christmas night as a child, dazzled by the cheery orbs in their rich, creamy sauce. I probably ate too many, and I probably dribbled some of the gravy down my party frock and onto my tiny, patent leather Mary Janes.

I like to imagine Nana designing glorious cocktail parties for friends and neighbors during the heyday of the hostess in the 1960s, but my Ma tells me she put most of her efforts toward family meals. By the time I rolled around in the 80s, there were still remnants of her mid-century menus to be had. At Christmas, my sisters and I gaped at the mountainous jello trifle, jiggling pleasantly beside the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” cake. For Easter, it was ham salad sculpted in the shape of a prostrate rabbit with ears of Ritz crackers. These meatballs, these Nordic delights, probably provided some sort of international allure for my family, but the feelings I have toward them today are overwhelmingly homey, domestic. They are part of my personal food story and do—will always—make me happy to eat.

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