DeMichele Family Meatballs

Meatballs – what a glorious creation! The perfect pairing with tomato sauce, meatballs deserve to be tender, juicy, and flavorful as can be. Some of my most precious memories in the kitchen with my Dad include squishing the meat mixture with my hands and rolling it into meatballs. I can still hear my high-pitched laughter and feel the slimy eggs between my fingers. I would thrust my meat-covered hands in front of my Dad’s face, always this close to mischievously patting his cheek with them. Now when I make meatballs by myself, with my boyfriend, or with friends, those memories come rushing back. Happiness takes over as I build memories in the kitchen and create a culinary masterpiece. Yes, these meatballs are that magical.

Glorious Meatballs Frying
Glorious Meatballs Frying

DeMichele Family Meatballs

  • 1/2 pound of ground pork (for every pound of meat)
  • 1/2 pound of ground turkey (for every pound of meat)
  • 1 cup grated cheese (parmesan or pecorino romano, preferably)
  • 2 eggs (for every pound of meat)
  • one handful of fresh parsley (or 3-4 tablespoons of dried parsley)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • vegetable oil for frying

1. For every pound of meat, use a half pound of ground pork and a half pound of ground turkey (ground dark meat is best – ground turkey breast is too dry).

2. Mix pork and turkey slightly with your hands in a large bowl.

3. Push the meat down in the bowl so that a crater-like shape forms in the meat.

4. Wash those hands!

5. It’s time to season the meat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, a little pepper, and garlic powder.

6. Add one cup of grated cheese and 2 eggs per one pound of meat.

7. Add bread crumbs (fresh or dried). You want the mixture to feel sticky but not too wet that you cannot form the meat into balls. A safe bet is to start with 1/2 cup of crumbs.

8. Add a handful or parsley (3-4 tablespoons of dried parsley if not fresh).

9. Here comes the fun part. Squish the egg yolks and use your hands to incorporate all the ingredients. Push the meat to the bottom of the bowl and turn the mixture over. Repeat this motion until everything is evenly mixed.

10. Smell the mixture – this is important! Trust your instincts. Does it smell like meatballs? If it just smells like raw meat, then you’ll need to add more seasoning or grated cheese. If the mixture is too wet, add more bread crumbs.

11. Roll the meatballs to the size you desire. We usually make them pretty large so that they can cook slowly in the tomato sauce.

12. Bring the meatballs to the stove and let the meat get to room temperature before frying.

13. Take a large pan and coat the bottom with vegetable oil. Turn the heat on to medium-high. When the oil starts to shimmer, you can start frying. Turn the heat down to medium. Put the meatballs in slowly, and don’t overcrowd the pan. Overcrowding will make the heat go down too low.

14. Flip the meatballs when they become light brown in color. Once the other side is brown, fry the sides. You can lean the meatballs against one another so they stay upright.

15. Take the meatballs out of the frying pan once all sides are brown. When your tomato sauce is boiling, add the meat and cook the sauce for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your tomato sauce and meatball batch.

That’s it! Prepare to fall in love with every bite.

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Farro Alla Norma

Do you ever have one of those days when the only thing that will make you feel better is comfort food? Last week, I had one of those days. Comfort food differs for everyone. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, any casserole really…these are what most think of when they hear the phrase “comfort food.” However, I’m learning that the concept of comfort food changes for each person. While the foods I listed above are surely delicious, my idea of comfort food includes those types of dishes that are both nutritious and hearty at the same time.

Remember that tomato sauce recipe? I sure hope so! We’ll be using that today in a recipe I call “Farro alla Norma.”

Have you heard of farro? Farro is an Italian grain that seems to form a happy medium between barley and wheat berry. When cooked, farro promises a chewy texture with a pronounced wheat flavor. My Dad and I first discovered farro when we watched Lidia Bastianich make farro salad on her PBS show Lidia’s Italy. We concocted this salad while on vacation in Cape Cod. Cooked farro with fresh mozzerella, fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and an olive oil/red wine vinegar vinaigrette makes for a most refreshing picnic treat. Companies even make farro pasta these days, a healthy whole wheat pasta that does not taste like cardboard.

“Alla Norma” is attached to any Italian recipe with eggplant as the star. My grandfather (I call him “Nonno”) told me that “Norma” is the name of an opera by Vincenzo Bellini. Who knew?

Farro alla Norma combines farro, roasted eggplant, and tomato sauce. Yum! Let’s get cooking.

Farro alla Norma 

Yield: 2 servings (or one if you are super hungry)

  • 1/2 cup farro
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • tomato sauce

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash your eggplant. Cut both ends off and peel the eggplant with a potato peeler.

2. Cut your eggplant into chunks. I made mine about a half inch thick and an inch wide. You can make your eggplant pieces as large or small as you please! Just know that smaller pieces take less time to roast, and larger pieces take more time to roast.

3. Take out a cookie sheet and line the cookie sheet with parchment paper. Parchment paper will be your lifesaver whenever roasting vegetables of any kind. When your vegetables are all roasted and pretty, you just throw the parchment paper away and you have a clean cookie sheet. Amazing!

4. Put your eggplant pieces on the cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour a generous amount of olive oil onto your eggplant, enough for them to absorb some oil. Season your eggplant with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Mix your seasoned eggplant around with a spatula so all the oil and seasoning is incorporated.

5. Put your eggplant in the oven and let it roast for about 30-40 minutes. Check your eggplant after about 25 minutes to make sure you have enough oil on your eggplant. You want your eggplant to look more translucent (not completely), but you don’t want burned eggplant.

6. Take your eggplant out of the oven and let it cool.

7. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a pinch of salt to the water, and then add your farro. Note: Farro can take forever and a day to cook. My suggestion? Get this miracle of a product:

Trader Joe's 10-Minute Farro
Trader Joe’s 10-Minute Farro

8. After 10 minutes, or however long your brand of farro takes to cook per the product’s cooking instructions, drain your farro and put it back in the pot.

9. Add your desired amount of tomato sauce and the roasted eggplant to the farro in the pot. Stir it all together, letting the mixture warm up in the pot for a minute or two.

Farro alla Norma
Farro alla Norma

There you have it! Serve this in a bowl with a generous helping of grated pecorino romano cheese, and you have yourself a hearty bowl of comfort food ready to make your day that much better.

As always, comment with any questions, thoughts, or results you have with this recipe!

 

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, where do I begin? Prose does not suffice.

Ode to Tomato Sauce by Kristina DeMichele

Garlic simmering, tomato paste hissing as it hits hot olive oil.

Footsteps running, tripping down the stairs to help squeeze the abundant juices of fresh tomatoes into the pot.

Fingers ripping basil into pieces, aroma emanating from the leaf.

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, shake-shake-shaking into the mixture, seasoning.

Wooden spoon so large its called “Big Papi,” stirring ingredients together.

This is what it means to cook tomato sauce.


If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be pasta and tomato sauce. Could I ever get tired of it? Never! As a little girl, some of my best memories in the kitchen are with my Dad, squeezing tomatoes in my hands, ripping pieces of basil into the pot. To my knowledge, there was one particular sauce-making session where I, kneeling on my stool with face parallel to liquid, sneezed directly into the sauce. My Dad still cooked that sauce up, though I’m sure it tasted a little bit like “Kristina.” When I make this sauce myself, it only takes the scent of the garlic in olive oil or the aroma of the basil to bring me back to my childhood kitchen. My great grandmother, Nonnie Ricca, created this recipe. With every batch of sauce I create, I feel that unmistakable connection to her, too.

I’ll be linking to this post frequently, as I’m about to share with you my family’s simple, yet delicious tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce

Yield: 2-4 servings

  • olive oil (enough to create a .25 inch depth in your pot)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of Pastene or Cento crushed, ground, or “kitchen ready” tomatoes (or 1 can ground tomatoes, 1 can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste, if using whole peeled tomatoes (use a whole can if making the recipe larger)
  • a bunch of fresh basil or frozen fresh basil (use as much as you want, but be sure you include at least a generous handful)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste

1. Take out a medium-large pot and fill the pot with olive oil, enough so that the oil is about .25 inches deep.

2. Then, peel your garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Turn on your burner to medium heat and put your garlic cloves into the pot with olive oil. Allow the oil to warm up and wait for those garlic cloves to sizzle. Now, you need to watch the garlic carefully. Wait until the garlic cloves become light brown in color, and then take them out with a slotted spoon. Tip: You can save these garlic cloves for another dish, or you can chop up this garlic and add it to the sauce later. My sister does this!

3. Turn off the heat and place the pot onto an unused burner.

  • If you are using whole peeled tomatoes, this is when you will insert your tomato paste. Taking care of the hot oil, place the tomato paste gently into the pot (do not let the paste just “plop” into the pot, you will burn yourself). Stir the paste around for about 30-45 seconds.
  • If you are using two cans of kitchen ready tomatoes, then you will not use tomato paste.
Look for this can!

4. Open your cans of tomatoes. Pour the kitchen ready tomatoes directly into the pot. You can always rinse out the can with a little water. Do not add too much water, though, as this will thin out your sauce. If using whole tomatoes, take each tomato, break it apart into pieces with your hands, and add these pieces to the pot (this was my favorite part as a kid)! Add the extra liquid from the can in the sauce.

5. Now, take your basil and wash it all in a colander. Pick each basil leaf off of the stem and rip the basil into pieces with your hands. If you cut the basil with a knife, the basil will bruise. Not so pretty. Place these ripped pieces into the pot. Enjoy the aroma!

6. To season the sauce, all you need is what I call the “spice trifecta” – salt, pepper, and garlic powder. This is where I tell you to eyeball it. You can do it! Add enough of these seasonings to cover the liquid in a thin layer, and add enough seasoning for you. It’s better to err on the side of caution and add more later than to add too much at first.

7. Mix these beautiful ingredients together. Put the sauce back on medium heat and let the mixture come to a soft boil. Let the lid rest on the pot, but do not completely close it. You can also take the lid off the pot if you need your sauce mixture to come thicker. Stir the sauce at least every 10 minutes. Let the sauce cook for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the amount of sauce you make and the desired thickness/richness you wish to have.

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)
The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)

There you have it! This particular recipe is good for 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you all are. You are encouraged to multiply this recipe and make a big batch for yourself. Leftovers are the best to freeze and have later!

Tips:

  • We have a massive garden in my Ohio home affectionately called “Fort DeMichele.” Our tomato and basil crop resides there. If you can grow and crush your own tomatoes, what a treat! The tomato sauce comes out all the sweeter.
  • When fresh basil is hard to find in the later fall and winter, buy or grow lots of fresh basil and freeze it in ziploc bags. When you make sauce in winter, just crush the frozen basil in the bag with your hands and pour it into the sauce.
  • For grated cheese, use pecorino romano. The flavor is a little saltier and possesses much more of a bite than parmesano reggiano. You can certainly use parmesano reggiano, but you will have a nuttier, more subtle flavor than if you use pecorino romano.

Plain tomato sauce is an amazing base for several recipes. In forthcoming posts, I will detail how to add meat to the sauce and how to use this sauce in other recipes. For now, try making this tomato sauce! Comment with thoughts, questions, or even results of your own.

A Warm Welcome

Hello! Welcome to If That Dish Could Talk, my new food blog and labor of love.

My last name is entirely Italian, “DeMichele,” but I am actually half Italian, half Irish. Both sides of my family come steeped in culinary tradition. Growing up, Mom would cook my Irish grandmother’s casseroles and cookies, the hearty recipes my great grandmother made during the Depression. Dad learned how to cook from my Italian great grandmother, my Nonnie. Heart and tummy-warming soups (chicken, lentil, white bean and smoked ham, you name it) were always a winter staple, and let’s not forget my family’s four-generation old recipe for tomato sauce. If the DeMichele family is known for one thing, it is certainly our tomato sauce and meatballs.

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce with Meatballs
The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

While the very act of cooking is rich with nostalgic memories, I also treat my kitchen as my science lab. I experiment! Honestly, I know I’ve created a masterpiece when my kitchen is a complete and utter mess.

This is my kitchen (squeaky clean right as I moved in):

My little studio kitchen.
My little studio kitchen.

Yes, I live in a little studio in Boston. My dining table simultaneously functions as my chopping space. Interestingly enough, the tiny space has become endearing. It keeps me on my toes and makes cooking that much more fun and lively.

For my readers, here are a few things I believe:

  • I believe in using fresh, simple ingredients to make a nutritious meal packed with flavor.
  • I believe in growing your produce and/or attending your local farmer’s market when possible.
  • I believe in cultivating beautiful memories in the kitchen, even when failures (inevitably) occur. 
  • Most importantly, I believe everyone can cook and find their specialty recipes. 

Every dish has a story. My hope is to share many of these stories with you.