My 16th birthday was just one week away. The big day included an appointment at the local BMV for my driver’s test, an appointment at the orthodontist to remove my three-year-old braces, and most importantly, I planned to go job hunting.
You see, a few weeks prior, I attended a meeting at my school for the foreign language club and learned of a twenty-one-day European tour offered to their members. I had the itinerary memorized.
(…and I still do…Land in Madrid, via New York City. Take a night train to Paris. Ride a tour bus and stop in Lucerne, Switzerland, head south into Italy and stop in Florence, Sienna, and Rome. Make our way back north to Venice, then skip over to Austria and see Innsbruck. Germany is next with a stop in Munich and Frankfurt. Skip up to the Netherlands and say hello to Amsterdam then hop on the ferry over to England and spend a day in London. Pack our bags for good and head home.)
That evening I took all the brochures home to my parents to plead my case. In my mind, the fact that I would be the first to have this awesome opportunity to travel parts of the world only my Grandfather had seen during the war was a no brainer. They should say “yes”, sign up for the payment plan, and in nine months I would be on my way.
Instead, they said nothing. They looked at one another. My Dad looked at Mom, then mumbled to me “No way we can pay for this. Get a job and pay for it yourself.” That was the end of the discussion*.
So, I needed a job.
First stop. Bob Evans restaurant. I had on my Sunday best, I couldn’t stop smiling from the new feeling of smooth teeth, and I marched on in there and handed the manager my application. He hired me on the spot. Just three shifts a week, but it was a start.
I trained, learned, became a shift leader, and everyone knew I would pick up any hours available. Six months later, all the installment payments were made and the remaining three months I worked for spending money.
The summer between my Sophomore and Junior year of high school became a journey of a lifetime, and this is precisely when I fell in love with anything and everything Italian. Especially the food.
It was seven years before I found a meatball in my hometown that rivaled those in my fond memories. Mystery Man and I stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall Italian place named “Armando’s Italian Market”. We became so well known in the joint that Lady Linda at the front counter covertly shared his Italian Meatball secrets with us. After Armando retired and closed the place down, we set our minds to making them ourselves.
*One week before jetting off to Europe at the age of sixteen, Dad approached Mom and told her they could not possibly let me go – I was too young, naive, and had never traveled more than one state from my hometown. He was not serious when he told me to get a job. That was his way of saying “no”. While Mom agreed, she would not let my hard work go without reward and she
Here they are!
*While Armando’s were not Gluten Free, I have adapted this recipe to meet my dietary needs.
Spicy Italian Meatballs
Makes approximately 72 (2 ounce) meatballs
3 lbs ground beef
3 lbs spicy Italian sausage (casings removed)
3 c. Romano Cheese (grated)
3 c. Dry Italian Bread Crumbs (One whole loaf of Udi’s white sandwich bread, and various spices. See instructions below.)
6 cloves garlic
Canola Oil for Deep Fryer
• Pour canola oil into deep fryer to the ‘fill’ line. Heat to 300 degrees.
• Working in small batches at a time, place 1/2 pound ground beef, 1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage, 1 cup Romano cheese, 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg and 1 clove of grated garlic in a large food processor. Combine for approximately 15 seconds (or mix by hand in a large bowl).
• Roll into 2” balls. (I weigh them into 2 ounce portions)
• Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
• Using tongs, place meatballs into fryer basket, being careful not to overcrowd.
• Fry for five minutes.
• Remove from the fryer and place on cooling rack nested in a rimmed baking sheet.
• Repeat with remaining meatballs.
• Place number of desired meatballs into saucepan with marinara sauce, heat through and serve.
Use only Romano cheese.
To freeze meatballs, let them cool completely and portion desired amount in quart size freezer bags. Thaw directly in warm marinara sauce.
Make your own bread crumbs:
Place 1/4 Udi’s bread loaf in food processor. Pulse until all bits and pieces are smaller than a pea. Add Italian seasonings, such as Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Garlic Powder, etc. Toss crumbs with olive oil and spread out over two rimmed baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees until brown. Cool completely before using. (Freeze any leftover crumbs for other recipes.)