Like most holidays, Easter is steeped in tradition. For those who celebrate this monumental occasion and all it represents, it is a time of great reflection and rejoicing. And all this comes at a magical time of year, when the colors have turned from grays to greens, and the earth erupts with a renewed cycle of life. Tulips and daffodils emerge as reminders that what had seemed to die in the path of winter has returned with an explosion of color and life. It is truly a beautiful season!
Like most celebrations of life, love and faith, the element of food somehow figures into the events of the day. Growing up, Easter always meant putting on our nice clothes and going to Mass, and then to my Polish grandma’s house for a grand meal. Food abounded, and among the ham and kielbasa was a platter of meatballs with mushroom gravy. As years went on, my mom made these same meatballs in the same tradition as grandma, and now I make them.
People have asked, “What makes these meatballs Polish?” Well, the recipe comes from our Polish family (not sure if grandma got the recipe from someone of developed these herself), and I always say that if a dish involves mushroom gravy then it might have Polish roots! There is also the combination of meat – pork and veal – commonly used in Polish cooking. Whatever the reason, we call these meatballs “Polish.”
For this recipe – and as a general rule – it helps to work with a good butcher who can accommodate special requests for meat. It is important that the pork and veal used in this dish is ground together TWICE. This insures a fineness of grind and good blending of the two meats. Long before the mega-marts dominated our shopping options, people went to neighborhood bakeries and butcher shops where they knew the people who ran the business. You could order or request exactly what you wanted – very different than just having to accept what is pre-portioned in a wrapped package sitting in a refrigerator case. If such a place still exists where you live, take advantage of it!
And while Easter has come and gone, these light, flavorful meatballs are wonderful anytime. Especially good on top of buttered egg noodles or with mashed potatoes, this recipe makes between 36 and 48 (depending on size) and will feed a crowd! Enjoy!
2 lbs ground pork
1 lb ground veal (pork and veal should be ground twice together)
1 ½ cup corn flake crumbs
2 medium onions, grated
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
¾ cup milk
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Vegetable oil (for browning)
Flour seasoned with salt and pepper (for coating)
1 beef bouillon cube
Water (enough to cover)
8oz sliced mushrooms
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
DAY 1: In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, eggs, corn flake crumbs, grated onions, onion soup mix, milk, salt and pepper. Using your hands, gently combine all ingredients so it is well incorporated. Do not over mix! Once combined, transfer mixture to a sealable plastic bag or other container and put it in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours.
DAY 2: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove meat mixture from refrigerator. Form meat into balls – I make mine about the size of a golf ball – you will get between 36 and 48 meatballs, depending on the size you make them. Once all the meatballs are formed, put a half-cup of flour seasoned with salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Using an electric skillet or a skillet on top of the stove, put in enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the skillet by no more than a depth of 1/8 inch. Bring the oil up to frying temperature (360-375 degrees). Roll each meatball in the flour so they are lightly coated all the way around. Once the meatballs are coated, place them in the skillet and brown them on both sides. After the meatballs have been browned, transfer them to a roasting pan. Once all the browned meatballs are in the roasting pan, fill it with enough water so that the water just comes up to the top of the meatballs. If you have more than one layer of meatballs in the roasting pan, just bring the water up to the top of the bottom layer. Crumble bouillon cube in pan and add your sliced mushrooms. Cover with lid or foil. Place in 300 degree oven for 1 hour.
Remove roasting pan from oven. Empty two cans of cream of mushroom soup into a large saucepan. Holding the meatballs back with a large spoon or spatula (it works better with someone helping) drain the liquid from the roasting pan into the saucepan containing the soup. Whisk until soup is completely smooth – this is your gravy. Pour back over the meatballs and serve! This can also be prepared in advance and reheated and served the next day.