For the meatballs:
1-1/2 lbs lean ground beef mixed with 1/2 lb lean ground pork
1 whole egg
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 handful fresh chopped Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup milk (or water)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, whole
Mix meat, egg, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, parsley and chopped garlic with your hands; add milk or water to shape into balls. Try to keep mixture “light” so you don’t end up with dense meatballs; milk and water help keep meat light.
In large frying pan, add olive oil and brown whole garlic cloves, taking care not to burn; discard garlic. Brown meatballs on all sides in seasoned oil, then place in sauce.
3 large cans tomato sauce
1 tbsp. sugar
1 large green pepper, cleaned and cut into strips
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: chopped onions, fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp oregano (or to taste)
3/4 tsp basil (or to taste)
Mix ingredients together, except oregano and basil, add meatballs to sauce and cook 2 to 3 hours to desired thickness, Then, 15 minutes before the sauce is done, add oregano and basil.
In addition to meatballs, or in substitution of them, you can add any of the following: chicken browned in oil, mild or hot sausage (also browned in oil), or steak (seared first).
The Federal Hill cookbook, “Federal Hill Cooks!” is available for $20 at Federal Hill Main Streets office, 42 E. Cross St., and at the Book Escape, 805 Light St. Proceeds go to support Federal Hill Main Streets activities and programs.
Our connections to the old neighborhood, whichever old neighborhood is ours, remain very strong, even if—and perhaps because—we move away. We remember the corner bars, groceries and confectioneries long after they have closed and been converted to condos.
We remember who lived where, and we remember who we used to visit after school, and what their moms made for a snack. We remember the grouchy people, the ones we either avoided or tormented. The old neighborhood is a wonderful place in our minds, frozen in time, unchangeable, a place we go for comfort.
The most dependable guideposts back to the old neighborhood are family recipes. The scent of something simmering on the stove can launch us right back to the summer we were six, or our first year in high school, whenever.
There is wonderful series of community cookbooks—from Canton, Federal Hill, Fells Point and Highlandtown, that feature all kinds of recipes—ethnic, homey, even some recipes from local chefs like Nancy Longo and Jerry Pelligrino.
Leafing through these cookbooks gives one that comfortable feeling of being at home among good neighbors and friends, with something bubbling away on the stove. Quick, somebody open the wine!
Which brings us to spaghetti and meatballs—or Sunday dinner to thousands of Italian-Baltimoreans. On Saturday, you made the sauce.
On Sunday, you feasted.
Nancy Leone Warren was born in South Baltimore. Her parents were born and raised there, in Grandmom Maria Magdalena “Myrtle” Iafolla’s on Montgomery Street.
In those days, Montgomery Street was not the leafy, wealthy enclave it is now. In fact, says Nancy, most of the residents were on public assistance. The Inner Harbor, in those days, was a working harbor, not a tourist destination. Ships came and went, and the scent of diesel fuel and bilge water perfumed the air.
When Nancy was two, her parents moved all the way out to Forest Park, but still came into town for Sunday dinner at Grandmom’s. Sometimes Nancy would come out on Saturday and spend the night. “I was very close to my grandmother,” she says. “I would spend the summer with her.”
The Iafollas were prosperous enough that Alberico could sponsor most of his family to immigrate from the old country. Myrtle noticed that the people who Americanized—the ones who learned English and adopted some American ways—stayed and prospered. “The ones who wanted to remain Italian didn’t do so well, lived in a ghetto—that’s my grandmother’s word—and eventually went back to Italy,” says Nancy. “So she wouldn’t allow Italian spoken in the house, and my grandfather—that’s almost all he spoke, so he didn’t speak much.
“I come from a very matriarchal family,” laughs Nancy.
Coal for the boiler was delivered through the front basement window. So were the grapes for Alberico’s homemade wine.
“My grandfather made his own wine, smoked crooked little Italian cigars and played the mandolin,” Nancy recalls. “The men would come over, smoke and drink, and my grandfather would play. When he sang ‘Let-a me call-a you sweetheart, I’m-a in-a love-a with you,’ we knew he was really drunk. It was the only song he knew in English.”
Grandmom Myrtle made the sauce and pasta on Saturdays. “We would start the new sauce, and take the old sauce and make pasta e fagioli.”
(Pasta e fagioli, pronounced “pasta fazool,” is bean and noodle soup, a hearty staple at Italian lodge halls and church suppers..)
“I am 64 years old but these are my most vivid memories. They are wonderful, wonderful memories,” says Nancy.