By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Just in time for the "Nordic Day" festivities in D.C. Public Schools next week, my food appreciation classes arrived in Scandinavia on our virtual world food tour and made the best meatballs you've ever tasted from scratch--including fresh bread crumbs and white sauce--in less than an hour.
It helps to have a portable burner to make the sauce at the prep table. Otherwise, the stove is about 30 paces away, and running back and forth gets tired after a while. The kids love pulling the bread apart for the crumbs, mixing the beef with the toasted crumbs, onions, eggs and other ingredients, then rolling the mix into balls. Nobody refuses the finished meatballs either. The only question at that point is, do you take them with or without the white sauce? And how about the lingonberry jam?
I tried to explain to the kids that the Swedes like their sweet and savory combinations and that lingonberries are a big deal in the land of the midnight sun. Not all were convinced. Still, I was delighted to find authentic Swedish lingonberry preserves amongst the other jams right next to the peanut butter display at my local Harris Teeter's.
Most Nordic countries have a traditional meatball recipe and there are any number of ways to sauce it. I thought the white sauce was easiest for the time we have allotted for our classes. It makes a good lesson in basic sauce construction.
Start with the fresh bread crumbs. And by all means make them fresh--the stuff in the cans won't due. Use about three thick slices of a country-style loaf (I chose a Tuscan round). Remove the crust and chop the white part fairly fine. Spread on a baking sheet and toast lightly in a 450 degree oven. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl beat 2 eggs. Add 1 small onion, minced, and 1 1/2 pounds (or a little less) ground beef. Add bread crumbs and mix well, seasoning to taste with salt, black pepper and a generous pinch of ground nutmeg. You would do well to work the mix for a few seconds with your hands. Kids love squishing it between their fingers.
Use a measuring spoon to scoop out heaping tablespoons of meat mix. Roll these into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving a little space around each meatball. Place in the 450-degree oven and bake until lightly browned and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.
While the meatballs are cooking you can make your sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and stir together to create a roux. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, for a minute or two, then begin adding 1 cup chicken broth. Stir continuously while you add the broth. The sauce will still be quite thick. As it begins to bubble again, add about 1/3 cup half-and-half, or enough to make a fairly thick sauce. Remember that it will thicken more as it cools. Season with salt and possibly a little nutmeg.
Serve the meatballs warm, covered with sauce, with some lingonberry jam on the side. Our kids got them in hot drink cups with a spoon. Hold any leftover meatballs warm, as your family is bound to ask for seconds.