The pork and beef at my local grocery store was on sale so.................... I made 85 meatballs! For this smaller batch, I made some creamy beef gravy of the Swedish variety.
My friends tell me I should be more anecdotal in my blog, so: when I was young, my parents would illegally allow Scandinavian girls in their 20's to live in their house for the year. It sounds creepy, but it wasn't. The girls would serve as our au-pairs, in exchange for the opportunity to live in America for a year and experience all of its culture. And it turned out that many families in my town did the same thing, so the au-pairs always had friends from their countries of origin with whom they could battle homesickness. Most of the time the au-pairs would just want to go clubbing as one was want to do in Europe during the 90's, their main ambitions during their time America merely to visit Disney World.
My first au-pair that I can remember was called Linda, and she had the pleasure of helping to raise me during a particularly poorly behaved portion of my life: third grade. She was a sort of Mary Poppins for me, with a strict demeanor and a no nonsense attitude. But what I remember most about her time living in my house was her Swedish pancakes, which she seemed to just pull out of nowhere on unassuming Saturday mornings here and there, and her Swedish meatballs. She could make Swedish food in an instinctual kind of way. She would just pull some items out of the refrigerator and then seconds later there would be a massive plate of Swedish meatballs in front of me (food was always the correct way to get me to behave). The first time she made us Swedish meatballs, we were like "Ok, but where is the marinara sauce to go with them? And what is this creamy mess on top? And you put fruit on them??" But then we tasted them and obviously they comprised a well-balanced, perfectly seasoned, scrumptiously delicious meal just like everything Linda cooked. A few years later I went to Germany and tasted what quickly became my favorite German dish: Königsberger Klopse, which is a similar meatballs-in-gravy type entree, and I wondered if Linda might have played some role in my affinity to it.
These meatballs are nothing like Linda's. Since I was making so many, I made them in a generic Italian kind of way with fennel seed and crushed red pepper, with the goal of using them in a few different meals, each based on recipes from a different part of the globe. They nonetheless turned out pretty well with these Sweden-inspired accompaniments - deeply rich and savory, balanced well by a vinegary sourness and herby freshness from the gravy. I ate them with some crusty bread and raspberry jam, which was desperately needed to counteract the saltiness of the gravy. I also just desperately need bread.
NOTE: I made a ton of meatballs for a bunch of different dishes, and only made 1/5 of the sauce below, so the proportions might be off. To get it right, you can prepare about 12 of the meatballs and then divide the sauce ingredients by 5, and then just have lots of extra meatballs, which is exactly what I did. I will update the quantities below if I ever make this dish for 6 people.
Butter Count: 10 Tbsp
2 cups brown onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 tsp salt, separated
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 slices stale bread, finely torn
2 lb lean ground beef
1 lb lean ground pork
20 tsp flour
1 1/4 tsp ground allspice
10 cups beef stock
15 Tbsp sour cream
10 Tbsp butter
7 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 tsp fresh dill
1. Heat about 2 Tbsp canola oil over medium heat. Add the next 6 ingredients (through crushed red pepper (only 1 tsp salt)) and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are tender. Remove from heat and cool completely.
2. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray generously with cooking spray. Gently mix the cooled onion mixture, torn bread, and meat in a bowl. Shape the mixture into about 47 small balls and place them onto they baking sheets. Set four of the meatballs aside on a separate plate.
3. Preheat the broiler. Broil the meatballs about 9 minutes, switching racks half way through, until all of the meatballs are cooked all the way through and browned on top.
4. Heat about 5 Tbsp canola oil over medium high heat. Add the four uncooked meatballs to the pan. Crush them up and cook about 5 minutes until the meat is cooked. Add the flour and allspice. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure none of the dry mixture sticks to the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and 1 tsp salt. Cook about 20 minutes until reduced to about 5 cups.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream, butter, and vinegar. Add the rest of the meatballs to the sauce, add the fresh dill, and mix to coat.