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That's A Spicy Meatball

Traditional foods passed down over the generations help us keep the memories of those we love alive. There are plenty of histories about the foods we eat and arguments over which foods started where. When it comes to family, we don't care where who served the first meatball. Noi mangiamo il polpettes!

White bowl with spaghetti and meatballs and man's hands holding fork and spoon
Spaghetti and Meatballs

Honesty plug. I did not make these meatballs. I did take the photo. My husband orders spaghetti and meatballs regularly, testing the restaurant's ability to make something similar to his Grandma's famous specialty. A few come close, and many fail the taste test.

Grandma Chiodo (Kee-odo in Italian), was born Florence Politano on 2 March 1915 in Green River, Utah to Malcolm and Rosa Vetere Politano. Both Malcolm and Rosa were born in Figline Vegliaturo, Consenza, Italy.

Malcolm immigrated in 1898 at the age of six. His father had been in the "new world" since 1871 and eventually settled in Utah in 1896. Rosa was 20 years old when she immigrated alone, sailing from Naples and arriving in New York on 3 March 1914. When asked if joining a friend or relative, she answered, "friend Politano Amilcare H Box Green River."

I've mentioned our 2014 trip to Italy and how special it was to visit our Italian ancestors' land. We drove from Palermo, Sicily, to Lamezia Terme, Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy (well, my husband drove😉) in one day. From there, we traveled to Figline Vegliaturo, in the neighboring province. With a second cousin's help, we had addresses for both the Politano and Vetere families in Figline. With Google Maps, we made dreams a reality.

You see, the homes at Via Capocasale 7 and Via Capocasale 18 are catty-corner from each other. Malcolm had spent his early childhood in 7, while Rosa lived in 18 until her immigration. The family lore is that Grandma (Rosa) immigrated to fulfill an arranged marriage. I bring up family lore because Malcolm and Rosa never spoke English, and their grandchildren (my mother-in-law's generation), didn't speak Italian.

Amilcare (Ah-MEEL-Kahr-Eh), better known as Malcolm and Rosa, married in Denver, Colorado, on 12 March 1914, just days after Rosa disembarked in New York.

So, long story short, Grandma Chiodo (Florence), the eldest of the Politano children, learned to make spaghetti and meatballs from her mother, Grandma Politano (Rosa). My mother-in-law remembers having spaghetti and meatballs every Sunday for dinner. By the time I entered the family, it had been a few years since the family had engorged on this infamous dish, and I was beginning to think they were a myth.

One Sunday afternoon in July 2010, the family gathered in Grandma's tiny condo, and we all made spaghetti and meatballs. Grandma walking my mother-in-law, one of my sisters-in-law, and myself through the whole process. Grandma didn't know the amount of the ingredients she used; she just poured it into her hand until it looked right. I followed her around with the measuring spoons 😄 to make sure we got it right. While I wish I had taken even one photo on that day, I am grateful for the amazing memories I have.

Grandma Chiodo's Spaghetti and Meatballs

Full disclosure: This is not a health food. This is a feel-good food.


Large pot on stove and ingredients on countertop
The beginnings of the infamous sauce

1/2 lb stew meat (browned)

12 oz tomato paste

12 oz water + more to loosen the sauce

1 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp dried basil leaves

2 tbsp of oil reserved from the stew meat

Brown the stew meat in 1/2 cup of corn oil. In a large pot, mix the tomato paste and 12 oz of water. Add garlic salt, sugar, and basil. (DO NOT go all-natural on me and substitute fresh basil, it will not taste the same.) Add in browned stew meat with 2 tbsp of cooking oil. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Add water to loosen the sauce as you go; it will depend on your pot and stovetop temperature.


Ingredients in bowls on the countertop
Meatballs in the making

1 lb ground beef

2 1/4 cups fine fresh breadcrumbs (see note below)

1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese (they do taste different, pick your favorite)

2 eggs

2 tsp garlic salt

1 tbsp dried basil leaves

1 tsp ground pepper

water to soften the mixture

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well (with your HANDS people). Form small balls (think a smidge smaller than a golf ball). If the mixture isn't sticking, add another egg. Heat 1 cup of corn oil in a deep-sided frying pan. Add meatballs and brown until cooked through. As they are done, add them to the sauce.

Grandma Chiodo wasn't picky about her spaghetti; after all, spaghetti and meatballs is an American dish. Cook your favorite spaghetti according to the package directions. Pour the sauce over the cooked spaghetti, sprinkle your choice of parmesan or romano cheese on top and serve. Mangia!

Note: Here's the secret to this recipe. Grandma always had a loaf of french bread from the King Soopers bakery in the freezer. Using the handheld cheese grater, grate the bread on the side with the biggest holes. You'll get amazingly fine breadcrumbs in minutes.

Tomato sauce and meat simmering in a pot on the stove
Amazingness in action

P.S. You might want to hire a house cleaner after you try this recipe. My kitchen walls, stovetop, microwave, countertops, and even floor are covered in this delicious mess every time.

P.S.S. DO NOT try to use your Cuisinart to grate the breadcrumbs. The heat from the speed will just turn them into mush. Trust me on this one! 🙄

P.S.S.S. If you really need a shortcut, make the meatballs ahead of time. Uncooked, they easily freeze for 3-4 months, but you will not want to wait that long.

If you make this dish, all I ask is that you remember my grandmother-in-law made this every Sunday when her children were growing up. 🤍

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1 Comment

Jan 15

I am another granddaughter. My father was Malcolm Politano Jr. Will you tell Joan I commented.

I'm the only one left in our family.

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