Meatballs. Little self contained orbs of goodness. A movie was named after them. A song was written about them. Even a 70’s rock star was named after them. Oh wait… that was Meatloaf. Sorry…oh, close enough.
We can’t imagine a good dish of spaghetti and marinara sauce, without a few meatballs nestled comfortably on those pasta ribbons.
Meatballs can be large, like tennis balls, or small like golf balls. And every size in between. They can be glazed, covered in cheese (see my decadent Baked Meatballs covered in Cheese) or even served in a soup. And here today, they are Swedish.
The classic Swedish dish, that Ikea may have ubiquitized (is that a word?) but really, was already a North American appetizer classic back in the Sixties, along with Rumaki and salmon mousse. There was always a platter of toothpick skewered meatballs in that luscious beef and sour cream (sadly sometimes it was grey, depending on who made it!) sauce.
So, when we travelled to Stockholm a couple of years back, it was a touch reassuring to see that pretty well every restaurant, high end as well as the more everyday dining spots, had these meatballs on the menu. Swedes really do love this dish! And it is a wonderfully cozy dish, made complete with mashed or smashed potatoes, and lingonberry compote on the side (the Swedish version of cranberry sauce).
This is not a recipe, but if you want to serve these with smashed potatoes, here’s the guidelines: Count out 5-6 baby potatoes per person that you are serving. Set into salted, boiling water, and then reduce to medium low. Cover and simmer until fork tender (about 15 minutes) Remove with a slotted spoon to a greased baking sheet. Using a fork or potato masher, press down and smash but not going so far so as to break the potato into more than one piece. Drizzle a little olive oil onto each. Sprinkle with chopped fresh thyme or rosemary, salt, pepper and crushed garlic. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and crispy on the outside.
It’s definitely a hit in this house. And not just because Jim is Swedish. It’s the perfect meal, largely because there are potatoes involved. And that tangy sauce. I love it for the lingonberries! But either way, these moist, tender little balls of joy are covered in the best sauce that the potatoes truly love sharing.
Growing up, my mom loved using lovage in her cooking. It is a savoury herb that is more common in Europe than here in North America. But it adds such a punch to meat dishes. When lovage wasn’t available, or when she wanted even a bit more oomph, she would resort to her trusty bottle of Maggi! It was orginally a combination of herbs and spices in a liquid that harkened to the flavour that lovage imparts. Europeans of that generation swear by the stuff! It could be compared to Worchestershire Sauce, or a milder version of Tamari. Even Vegemite in very small doses contains a similar flavour profile. It is an umami thing. So, I guess that is where I learned my trick for adding some Maggi, or Worcestershire Sauce or even Tamari to savoury dishes. Just a little bit is all it takes to enhance the flavours, somehow making them shine, whether in a gravy, sauce, braising liquid etc. And you will find a touch of the above in my gravy. My other secret ingredient is in the meatball itself: I add a touch of heat in the form of cayenne pepper when I’m sautéing up the onions. It seems to round out the flavours, and add a depth in what can otherwise be a bland meatball. It will not overwhelm, so don’t worry that you have to cut it out.
And please, if you can, go find a jar of lingonberry jam or compote. It makes the dish complete. But if you have scoured the land and can’t seem to find some, then a worthy substitute is cranberry sauce. The dish is rich and savoury, so having that spoonful of lingonberries on the side is a perfect way to cut through the richness.
As I write this, the wind is whistling really intensely- it always makes me feel like it is colder outside than is humanly bearable. So writing about a dish like this is extra meaningful- comfort food is really all we crave, when there’s a harsh chill in the air. Hope you are all keeping warm wherever you are. Unless you’re in Australia. In which case, stay cool!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1/2 cup Panko* or any fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 large or extra large egg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste (don't skimp on the pepper, that's what this meatball loves!)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 tsp Maggi or Worcestershire Sauce or Tamari (or to taste), or even 1/2 tsp Vegemite
- 3/4- 1 cup sour cream (depending on how tangy you like it!)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring regularly, until onions have become translucent and just starting to turn golden, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with the cayenne pepper and stir well. Remove from the heat.
- In a large bowl, using your hands, combine ground beef, ground pork, Panko, egg, allspice, nutmeg and cooked onion and parsley; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Once combined well, stop. (to keep working it, will cause the meat mixture to become tough when cooked)
- Reheat the skillet to medium high. Take a small portion (about the size of a thick quarter, and place in the skillet. Sauté until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Taste. If you are happy with the flavour continue to next step. If you feel it could still use more salt, pepper, or spices, now is the time to re-season.
- Roll the mixture into 1 1/4 inch or so meatballs, You should get at least 30 meatballs
- Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet. Add meatballs, in batches, and cook until all sides are browned, about 4-5 minutes. You may need to add more oil. Adjust the heat if you see that they are browning too harshly. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Melt butter in the skillet at medium high. Whisk in flour until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in beef broth and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Add the Maggi or Worcestershire Sauce. Stir well.
- Stir in sour cream; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Stir in meatballs and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through and thickened, about 8-10 minutes.
- Serve with potatoes (mashed, roasted, even baby boiled if so desired), garnished with parsley.
- Classically served with mashed, or boiled or roasted baby potatoes. And lingonberry compote or jam. If you simply cannot find lingonberry jam, feel free to swap out cranberry sauce or compote.
- I say that it serves 4. It could easily serve 5, depending on how many meatballs you want to serve per person. I'm saying between 6-7 is good.