It was an ordinary Sunday morning when ten year old Marianna was roused from her sleep – not by the sound of icy pellets of sleet hitting the window nor by her pesky cat nuzzling her neck with his downy face, purring loudly in her ear. Nothing that mundane could disturb her peaceful slumber; it was something much more tantalizing and enticing.
Gradually the hint of a delectable aroma wafted into her room like wispy smoke, encircled her head and tickled her nose with ethereal fingers. Sleepy eyes blinked open and Marianna grinned as the realization hit her – Mama’s making meatballs!
Slipping on fuzzy socks Marianna ran to the kitchen – the queen’s domain where Mama reigned supreme. She was standing guard over her gleaming Autumn Gold Amana stove, all the burners dutifully at work. The rear burners held two large stainless steel pots containing simmering tomato sauce, a slowly bubbling brew of crimson ambrosia. The front burners held the culinary Holy Grail – Mama’s treasured cast iron pans which had one purpose and one purpose only – frying meatballs. The expertly formed golfball-sized orbs of pure perfection sizzled in Mama’s special mixture of olive oil and butter turning the meatballs a delicious golden brown. The butter and oil combination was one of her many secrets – “a kiss from the cook” she would say.
“Come, Marianna. Mangia! I put some aside for you. Eat them before they get cold.”
Marianna scampered to the side of the stove where Mama had placed three glorious meatballs on a little plate. Her immediate reaction was to gobble them up as fast as possible but they would be gone too soon.
There’s a process for eating fried meatballs fresh from the pan. First you select one, gingerly picking it up with your fingers. No respectable Italian would eat a fried meatball with a knife and fork; it’s a ritual and you don’t mess with rituals. Next you inhale the fragrance which in itself is a religious experience. Bringing the meatball to your mouth, you pause for one second, lips barely touching the crunchy crispy outer shell. Now for the best part – that first small bite revealing the exquisitely cooked succulent interior of the meatball.
The sensation of flavors bursting in your mouth cannot be adequately described. Like a wine connoisseur savoring the bouquet of a fine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, so must the sublime piquancy of the noble meatball be appreciated. The combination of the outer crust and tender succulent inside blended with Pecorino Romano cheese, oregano and seasoned breadcrumbs makes for the ideal culinary marriage.
Marianna brought her now empty and licked clean plate to the sink and watched as Mama carefully placed the meatballs into the sauce where they would lovingly simmer and soften for several hours.
“Mama” Marianna began timidly, “may I have your recipes when I grow up? I want to learn to cook just like you.”
“My recipes?” Mama asked incredulously. “There are no recipes written in some fancy cookbook. The recipes are in here and in here” she said touching her head and her heart.
“But how will I learn to cook without a recipe?” Marianna asked.
“My angel Marianna. Cooking is like breathing – don’t think about it. You watch. I will teach you. Your hands and heart will know when the texture is right – a little water, some cheese, a few eggs, a handful of seasonings. You’ll know. As long as you add the most important ingredient, you’ll never need a recipe.”
“What’s the most important ingredient, Mama?”
“Love, my angel” Mama said as she kissed the top of Marianna’s head. “Love.”
NAR © 2019