As a small child, I loved taking the trolley with my Noni to East Boston. Her house in Beachmont was a stone’s throw from the trolley stop. I had my own special assignment for these outings — I was in charge of one of her leather shopping bags. She carried the other one, which contained her purse and a snack in case we got hungry. The one that I was assigned left the house empty, but was plenty full when we arrived home.
Phillips chicken house in Maverick Square was an important stop, usually the last after we’d gone to the fruit and vegetable store and the butcher shop. Most home cooks would never see what we’d buy at the butcher shop — organ meats (brains and liver), intestines (for making sausages), maybe rabbit. Another stop was Kennedy’s in Central Square, where we bought coffee beans, butter, eggs and peanut butter.
Noni loved the “Racket Store,” with its amazing supply of dishes and kitchen utensils. She could spend hours browsing there. We had to plan a day where the weather was not too hot because we had perishables that needed to stay relatively cold. Two full leather shopping bags meant it was time to get home and prepare supper before Nonno got home from work. I hated to have our field trip end.
Noni was thrilled years later when Cerretani Supermarket opened practically across the street from her house. She couldn’t get over the modern one-stop, full-service aspect of it. There was a machine that you could drop your coffee beans into to grind. But Noni had her own grinder for coffee, as well as a meat grinder. The supermarket had ground meat, which she found amazing, and ready-made sausages of every size. I can imagine her shaking her head and rolling her eyes at a whole chicken, already cooked to take home, that is in just about every market today. Every variety of bread — rustic, Tuscan, brioche, baguette — is available today. There are breads with olives, fresh rosemary, garlic, and olive oil baked in wood-burning ovens like in Italy and France. She would have loved it.
When I got my driver’s license, I couldn’t wait to take Noni to the North End. When I was a baby, she and my mom would take me there by ferry — for a penny.
Back in the day, Faneuil Hall Market was a colorful stop. Vendors stood under umbrellas with push carts filled with every variety of fruit and vegetables. We often would buy, for a good price, bushels of peppers or tomatoes.
I can still hear Noni’s voice offering instructions with her various do’s and don’ts. The meatballs I make today, for example, are just the same as Noni’s. I loved watching her attach the grinder to the edge of the table to grind the veal, pork and beef. Of course, today I buy it already ground.
It is a shame that I could never get her to write down a recipe. When I asked for details the only measurement she would share was “a shot glass full” or “until it feels good.”
But I do remember many details. The meatballs required one- or two-day-old “not American” bread, soaked in a little milk and squeezed out before being combined with the meats. It also called for chopped flat leaf parsley, not the curly king that garnishes restaurant plates. A chunk of Romano cheese would be grated, from her “Do it fresh” decree. Grating the cheese as needed does make a difference, thank you Noni. Fresh garlic too, freshly chopped. Pre-chopped garlic that has been submerged in olive oil for too long, unrefrigerated, is unappealing.
Noni’s meatball recipe calls for raisins, which surprises many people. I like to soak the raisins in about a shot glass of Marsala for a few minutes to plump them up. You can drain them or not, or drink the Marsala left in the shot glass and salute Noni. Toasted pine nuts are a great contrast to the raisins. Noni told me not overwork the mixture or else I’d “make the meatballs tough.” The meatballs are shaped by hand and sauteed in olive oil to brown all over before gently placing them in the sauce to simmer for at least an hour. Allow for at least two meatballs per person, and make enough for sandwiches over the days that follow.
The same three meats for meatballs are wonderful for making pâté, but duck, chicken and rabbit also work. Apricots, raisins and cranberries are terrific in the pâté. Nuts, especially pistachio, are complementary, as are herbs such as thyme and rosemary. Pâté goes a long and delicious way and you will have fun making it, I assure you.
A rustic pâté or terrine
A Pyrex loaf pan will work nicely if you don’t have a heavy terrine or pâté mold. Best to prepare it the day before, as the flavors will be more developed.
Cook a small chopped onion in 2 tbsp. olive oil or butter, until soft. Add 1 tbsp. each chopped fresh garlic and thyme (or 1 tsp. dried thyme) and cook another few minutes. Set aside to cool.
In food processor, combine 1 tsp. black peppercorns and 1 bay leaf; pulse until it is finely-ground. Set aside.
Whisk together 2 large eggs, ½ cup of heavy cream and ¼ cup of brandy or Marsala. Set aside.
In a large bowl, place the combination of ground meats, veal, pork and beef. Two pounds total. Mix in the garlic, onion, egg and cream and the peppercorns/bay leaf combo. Combine well with 2 tsp. salt and grate a little fresh nutmeg into it.
Line a mold with several bay leaves and sprinkle a few peppercorns in there, too. Line with strips of bacon covering the bottom and allow to overhang over the mold.
Fill mold evenly with the mixture and overlap with bacon strips. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 10 hours. Discard the wrap and cover with tin foil.
Place the terrine in a pan with enough hot water to reach halfway. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven until thermometer registers 160 to l65 degrees (approximately 1¾ hours).
Remove foil and pour out the baking liquid; save for soup or sauce if you like.
Place a sheet of parchment or wax paper over the top.
For weight, use bricks wrapped in foil or a heavy can of tomatoes or oil, about 2 pounds, to press the pâté. Place a cookie sheet on top first. Put the weights on top of that.
Refrigerate the weighted pâté at least 4 hours.
Run a knife around the edges to clean the appearance.
Serve with thinly sliced baguette, apricot or fig jam, pickled onions, cornichons and Dijon mustard.
Will keep refrigerated for up to 1½ weeks, wrapped in plastic wrap.
The weights will give the pâté a nice, pressed look.
This will be my final column for The Daily Item’s Food pages. I’m so sad that my column is ending, but it has been a wonderful experience, and I thank you for your interest and kind feedback.
I have met so many new friends over the past few years as a result of the visibility the column has offered, and it’s brought me back in contact with so many people who have memories to share about my Marblehead restaurant. I will miss the writing and the opportunity to revisit my history and share it with you. It has given me a great deal of joy.
I appreciate the opportunity given to me by Ted Grant, the Item’s publisher, and to the supportive staff at the paper, who are a fine group of people who are so dedicated to the community. Most of all, I thank you for your support, your kind letters and sharing of your memories.
Until we meet again …