Claudia Roden's Bulgur Salad With Pomegranate Dressing and Toasted Nuts
Azo Family Chocolate Cake

Celia Barbour's Finnish Meatballs


Okay, so it's no big secret that meat doesn't photograph well. Pardon me, dear readers, for offending your eyes with this picture. Believe me when I tell you that these meatballs, despite being stodgily unphotogenic, were the highest praised items at my birthday lunch last weekend. I know - four great recipes this week and counting. We're on a quality roll here!

Those meatballs are Finnish meatballs, courtesy of Celia Barbour's grandmother, which you know must guarantee success, because who pulls out their grandmother's recipes to be published nationwide if they haven't got a deep, abiding faith in their deliciousness? I'd had the recipe earmarked since Celia wrote about her feelings on pasture-raised meat a few months ago (I guess we feel the same way). As Ben and I would have never been able to eat our way through a mountain of those meatballs on our own, and it's a well-known fact that meatballs make every party a better party (what? you didn't know that? it's the truth), I cooked up a batch for my friends on Sunday.

To prepare the raw meatball - er, batter? what does one call this uncooked pile of meat? - I grated a mountain of Gouda before mixing it into a verdant soup of beaten eggs, parsley, chopped (not fine enough) onions and spices. Then I squished in an enormous pile of soppy bread and ground meats (my ground pork was whey-fed, according to the Bobolink girls, which, in principle, seems revolting, but apparently it makes the pork taste delicious and who am I to criticize the gentle pork farmers of New Jersey?) until all the ingredients were well-combined and evenly distributed.

It took me quite some time to roll marble-sized meatballs and coat them lightly in flour - and my kitchen started to look like a truffle workshop - but there was something intensely peaceful and soothing about the work. It was eight in the morning on a Sunday, I was up to my elbows in cold, raw meat, and everyone I knew was still asleep, but there in my kitchen, as the sun rose and the birds sang, I had my little meatball rhythm going and couldn't have felt more whole.

I browned those little marbles in olive oil - it took four batches in my 12-inch skillet - before dumping them all into a tiny amount of simmering chicken broth (well, actually, after the meatballs were cooked, I let them sit on their plates for a few hours and then I dumped them in the pot, and they were no worse for the wear and suited my schedule much better). After the broth simmered and the meatballs warmed and cooked a bit further, I swirled in some cream, turned off the heat and watched a miracle of chemistry take place. The cream thickened and glossified - coating each meatball with a toothsome, creamy glaze.

With toothpicks set out for everyone, and the pot on the still-warm stove, the meatballs were the stars of the day. Little flavor bombs of spiced meat bound by buttery cheese - I couldn't imagine eating a whole plate of these with noodles unless I was, well, an alcoholic Finn soaking up his bacchic transgressions with saturated fat. But pierced with a toothpick and eaten one at a time while leaning against the stove with my friends, they were absolute perfection.

Finnish Meatballs
Yields 8 to 10 servings

3/4 cup milk
3 slices white bread, crusts removed
6 ounces mild and buttery Gouda-style cheese
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley, finely minced
3/4 cup finely minced onion
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup chicken or beef broth
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a bowl, warm milk in a microwave until just steaming. Remove from heat and press bread into the milk; set aside.

2. Grate cheese on large holes of a box grater and place in a large bowl. Add parsley, onion, eggs, salt, both peppers and allspice. Stir well to combine. Add ground beef, ground pork and milk-soaked bread (discard the milk). Knead by hand until well-blended.

3. Spread flour on a plate. Roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls, and roll in flour to coat. Place a Dutch oven over very low heat, and add broth. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.

4. Working in batches, add enough meatballs to loosely fill pan. Sear for about 1 minute, then shake the pan to turn meatballs. Continue until well-browned on all sides, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Transfer meatballs to Dutch oven and allow them to gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring carefully from time to time. Add cream and turn the heat off. Mix gently.