When a friend was planning a potluck at the end of last month, she asked each of us to bring a dish from our homeland.
It’s an international group of friends, with roots in Mexico, Spain, Cuba and Sweden, and though I, too, claim Swedish descent, I grew up eating everyday Midwestern food in Missouri: Shake ‘n’ Bake pork chops, spaghetti and sliced smoked sausage, chicken stir-fry, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, chili (or bean stew with ground beef, if you prefer).
Sure, we ate casseroles, but not as often as you’d think, and so many of our other dishes, like Mexican lasagna or Springfield-style cashew chicken, were internationally inspired in the first place.
I had grand plans to think of something that really said “Missouri,” like toasted ravioli or possum pie — I jest, I jest — but when it came to the day of the potluck, I decided I’d bring something inspired by what I imagine my ancestors in Sweden might have eaten: Swedish meatballs. The irony is, I didn’t grow up eating them and only am familiar with them as an adult thanks to Ikea.
Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes writes some of my very favorite recipes, and I knew her version of Swedish meatballs would be spot on. Even though I made a trip to the grocery store for beef stock and butter, I forgot that the onions in my pantry were on their last legs.
Sure enough, they were too rotten to use, so I had to improvise and use only grated carrots for the aromatics. Bauer’s original recipe calls for one grated onion and no carrots, but you could use a combination of both if you’d like. The carrots did add a warm, yellowish tint to the gravy, but I didn’t hear any complaints at the party.
One other change I made: Bauer sautes the meatballs in butter, but because it was late on a Friday afternoon and I was short on time and energy, I chose to bake them first to save a little hands-on cooking time.
This recipe yields plenty of leftover gravy, which would be great to serve with a rotisserie chicken a few days after you have the meatballs. You could serve these with mashed or baked potatoes, but egg noodles or rice would also be good.
Swedish Meatballs and Gravy
For the meatballs:
2 Tbsp. butter
3 large carrots, grated
2/3 cup milk
4 slices of bread, torn into pieces
1 lb. ground pork
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cardamom
For the gravy:
6 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup flour
1 quart beef stock
1/2 cup sour cream
In a large, deep saute pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt the butter and saute the grated carrots, stirring often, for 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, soak the bread in milk for about 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the carrots in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the soaked bread and milk and pulse a few more times. Return the mixture to the bowl. Add the eggs, ground pork and beef, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cardamom.
Using your hands, mix the ingredients together, but do not overmix. Form 1-inch balls and place them on several sheet pans coated with cooking spray. Bake the meatballs for 12-15 minutes, until the outside of the balls have started to brown. They might not be cooked all the way through, but you’ll finish cooking them in the sauce.
Using that same deep-sided saute pan, heat 6 Tbsp. butter until it is melted and starting to foam. Slowly whisk in the flour and continue to stir until smooth. Continue to cook the flour and butter mixture, stirring often, for several minutes until the roux starts to turn light brown.
Whisk in the beef stock and bring to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the pot and lower the heat. Cover and cook on low for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the sour cream. Serves 8 to 10.
— Adapted from a recipe by Elise Bauer, SimplyRecipes.com
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