Last year, I read a multivolume Proustian novel about the life of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard.
The minutiae of his experience were the point of the book, elaborated in extravagant detail. Everything in his day-to-day life was there, every cigarette break, drinking spree and marital argument — everything, that is, but his meals. What did this guy eat? He mentions only one food with any regularity: the frozen rissoles he heated up for many a meal.
So then, what’s a rissole?
Finding the answer was more difficult than you’d think. Every time I searched online for Norwegian or Scandinavian rissoles, recipes for meatballs like you’d get at Ikea would appear. And when I searched for just rissoles, I got a variant of French-style potato or meat croquettes.
I never did figure out exactly what he was eating.
But the research gave me a hankering for Swedish meatballs, which are about the most perfect thing you could make on a cold, wet evening, whether you’re in Scandinavia, New York or anywhere else a comforting, cozy meal will do your body good.
To clarify: What we call Swedish meatballs here in the United States are made all over Scandinavia, in myriad ways.
Most recipes use a combination of beef and pork: the beef for chew, the pork for flavor and richness. I like a ratio of 50/50, but feel free to change that to suit your tastes. And note that many people substitute veal for the pork. You could probably even try ground turkey.
As for seasonings, onions, either raw or sautéed, are often added to the meat, along with warming spices like allspice, nutmeg and ginger.
Another important ingredient is bread crumbs in milk, which give the meatballs an incredible tenderness. I used panko, which I think provides a fluffier texture than more finely ground dried bread crumbs. Or you could use a diced slice of soft sandwich bread if that’s more convenient.
As anyone who has ever bought a Billy bookcase is likely to know, Swedish meatballs are incomplete without a pool of creamy gravy. Here, I’ve seasoned the gravy with brandy for complexity and mustard for tang. If you’ve still got that jar of lingonberry jam in the fridge from your last bookcase-buying trip, a dollop adds a touch of sweetness and some very welcome color to the plate.
Yield: 4 dozen meatballs
Total time: 45 minutes
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup warm milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 tablespoon brandy
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef or chicken broth, low sodium or homemade
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, optional
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane or minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed for drizzling
Chopped fresh parsley or dill, for garnish
1. In a medium bowl, soak bread crumbs in warm milk while you prepare the onions.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir in onions and a pinch of salt and cook until pale golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer half the onions to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Prepare sauce: Add brandy to skillet with onions and ignite with a long match or igniter (or if you’re using a gas stove, just swirl pan, brandy should catch fire). Let flame die down, then add the remaining butter, letting it melt. Sprinkle in flour. Sauté until flour browns, about 3 minutes. Whisk in broth, cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer, whisking, until reduced to a sauce, about 5 minutes. Add mustard, if you like, and season with more salt, if needed.
4. To large bowl with onion, add remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, soaked bread crumbs, beef, pork, eggs, garlic, pepper, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Roll into 1-inch balls (about 2 tablespoons each), placing them on one or two rimmed baking sheets as you go.
5. Heat broiler. Drizzle meatballs with oil. Broil meatballs, switching pans’ positions if using more than one so they both get close to the broiler, until well browned all over, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with gravy, garnished with herbs.