Revisiting My Grandma’s Swedish Meatballs, By Jen Sommerness
It was cold here in California the other day…well, cold for here anyway. The rain has been coming down in sheets, as I am sure many of you have heard about in the news these days. Back home, in Duluth, Minnesota, my parents called to make sure we hadn’t washed away out here on the coast. The call reminded me of some recipes that I want to share here. My mom has always called them “Old Fashioned West Duluth Recipes”, and I have loved them all of my life.
When weather keeps us inside, my mind instantly turns to the kitchen, and making things that are comforting from the inside out. My grandmother’s Swedish meatballs were the perfect thing for us this weekend to warm us and feed three hungry boys, well…four if you count my hubby.
With the holidays coming, this is always my dish that I bring to offer, especially if it needs to be held for any length of time. Part of an “Old Fashioned West Duluth Recipe”, I guess, is that it can be made and baked ahead, or held in a crock pot, or reheated, or easily frozen, or any combination of those things…you get the point! What isn’t always a part of these recipes is taste.
My grandmother’s recipe for Swedish meatballs is exceptional. I remember watching her in her kitchen making them. Even more often, I remember standing in the kitchen watching my mother making them. The recipe has been passed down, as they are…measuring by sight, smell and sound…not necessarily actually measuring anything.
I have done my best here to capture what that recipe is, to share it with you. The meatballs are exactly the ingredients that I remember. If you like a softer textured meatball (think IKEA), these are not those. Best I can tell that type of meatball is made with bread soaked in milk. These have a firmer texture due to the use of saltine crackers instead of bread. They still give you a tender meatball, but have a texture more like that of one you would use in pasta dishes. The meatball can be made larger if feeding your family for dinner, or much smaller for an appetizer.
My grandma’s original recipe for the sauce is made with canned cream of mushroom soup. This is also typically an essential ingredient for an “Old Fashioned West Duluth Recipe”, but here, I dress it up a bit, instead using beef broth and sour cream. If you would rather use cream of mushroom soup, you can substitute one can of it and measure and equal amount of milk to substitute for the beef broth and sour cream in the recipe.
Either way you do it, I think you will love this family recipe as much as I do. They are delicious!
For the Meatballs
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely diced
Large handful of Italian parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
10-12 saltine crackers, crushed fine with your hands
2 Tablespoons ketchup
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
For the Sauce
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups beef broth
1 cup sour cream
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Make the meatballs
Preheat the oven to 300.
Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix together thoroughly. I prefer using my hands, so everything is incorporated, without the mixture becoming overworked. This helps the meatballs stay tender. Begin pulling out the amount you would like for the size meatball you prefer, roll them between your hands, making sure they are cohesive but being careful not to over handle them. Set them aside on a cookie sheet, and continue until all meatballs are formed.
In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, drop the meatballs one by one in a single layer into the oil. You will most likely need to do this in batches. Sauté them until brown, then roll them gently to the other side and cook until brown. This will take about 2-3 minutes per side. Gently remove the meatballs to a large bowl (they are not cooked through yet, and will release juices), and continue with the next batch until all meatballs are browned on all sides.
Make the sauce
Once all meatballs are removed from the pan, turn heat down to medium, and whisk the flour into the pan drippings. Cook the flour and drippings until you smell a slightly nutty smell, which means the flour is cooked, about 2 minutes. While whisking, carefully pour the beef broth into the pan, making sure you continue whisking until the flour lumps are gone, and you release the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue whisking until the mixture comes to a simmer. It should start to thicken at this point, about 4 minutes. Add the sour cream, and continue whisking to incorporate into the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
(If using cream of mushroom soup and milk instead of beef broth and sour cream, you still need to do the step with the flour, but instead of the beef broth you would pour the milk in, and instead of the sour cream, you would mix in the cream of mushroom soup).
Return the meatballs (and the juices they released while resting) into the sauce, and give a good stir to cover all with the sauce. Cover pan and bake for about an hour.
Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles, with lingonberry jam on the side!