When you’re married to one Sicilian, and mother to another, it’s easy to become infected by their passion for all things Italian. In fact, I often refer to myself as an IBM – Italian by Marriage.
But my grandfather, Don Mathison, was 100 percent Norwegian and proud of it, and every now and then we find a way to honor my heritage, too.
Earlier this fall, Tony and Giovanni were invited to present three food demonstrations in the Nordic Kitchen at the annual Norsk Høstfest celebration in Minot, N.D. Tony’s initial reaction amused me.
“Do they know I’m Italian?” he asked. “What am I supposed to prepare?”
Norsk Høstfest is North America’s largest Scandinavian festival, and some of Scandinavia’s most popular chefs were scheduled to appear in the Nordic Kitchen. I’ve been hearing about this festival since I was a little girl, but I never had the opportunity to go. The prospect of watching my son prepare Norwegian food with his Italian dad was just too good to pass up.
“You have to do it,” I said. “We already have some great Norwegian recipes to share – just focus on what you know.”
I pointed out that he could use his heritage to his advantage, and play upon the similarities between food across cultures.
Smoked or cured salmon is almost as popular in Italy as it is in Norway, so our recipe for Norwegian gravlax was a natural fit. And krumkake, when filled with whipping cream, is very similar to the classic Sicilian cannoli. For this occasion, Tony featured my krumkake recipe with a twist – instead of using whipped cream, he would use the sweetened ricotta filling of a cannoli.
For the third presentation, I suggested he create his own version of a Norwegian meatball, an idea our 10-year-old son just loved. Last year, Gio and I created our own Italian meatball recipe, which has since become a family favorite, and I’m not even Italian.
“Dad,” he said, “We can do this!”
Tony researched extensively to learn the secret to making authentic Norwegian meatballs, and discovered what many of us who were born and raised here already know: Norwegians are heavy users of exotic spices, particularly nutmeg, ginger and allspice. These spices are the key to making Gio and Tony’s Authentic Norwegian meatballs.
Contrary to popular belief, allspice (also known as Jamaican pepper), is not a blend of various spices but is, instead, a legitimate spice. Allspice comes from the berries of a tropical evergreen tree, and was brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus. It has aromatic properties of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, giving it its name, allspice.
Meatballs are popular in many cultures, and Tony was surprised to discover that they are a common food in the Norwegian diet. The more he researched, the more determined he was to get the recipe right. And, if the reactions from the mostly-Scandinavian crowd at Norsk Høstfest were any indication, he succeeded.
The meatballs alone were delicious, but it’s the sauce that really makes them special. Tony knew this as he was crafting his recipe, and he spent a good deal of time working on the balance of ingredients and perfecting the texture. I loved the final version: immensely comforting, this gravy is silky smooth, not too thick, with a lovely light brown color and savory aroma.
Gio and Tony’s Norwegian Meatballs are easy to make, utterly delicious and authentically Norwegian. They will make their family debut on our Christmas Eve buffet this year, and I know that my proud Norwegian Grandpa Don would definitely approve. Vær så god!
Gio and Tony’s Norwegian Meatballs
1 pound ground beef, 85 percent lean
½ cup whole milk
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs (or plain breadcrumbs)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup canola oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs and milk together until combined. Add the ground beef, egg, onions and spices and use your hands to mix them together. Season with salt and pepper and mix again until ingredients are incorporated.
Shape the meatballs to desired size (we recommend making balls 1 inch in diameter, which makes about 30 meatballs). Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat and cook the meatballs until browned on all sides.
Place the meatballs on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and bake in a 400-degree oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking.
2 cups beef broth
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons roux
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch black pepper
Place beef broth in a sauce pot and cook over medium-high heat. Once the broth starts to boil add the roux and whisk until broth thickens to a sauce consistency. Finish by adding cream and season with salt and pepper. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
- Mix the meatball mixture by hand for at least five minutes to enhance the texture and bind the ingredients together.
- For a gluten-free version, use a slurry of 2 tablespoons corn starch and 2 tablespoons water instead of the roux to thicken the gravy. Omit the breadcrumbs in the meatball mixture and mix the meat for a few more minutes.