Full confession: I’ve never known what Swedish meatballs were.
I knew of them, of course. But I never knew what really made them Swedish, or at least “Swedish.” So I did a little research. In Sweden, meatballs are called kottbullar (which is now the first and only Swedish word I know), and they usually are made with ground beef or a mix of ground beef, pork and sometimes veal, and they are finished in a sauce of broth and cream.
That sounded like something my family could get down with. And apparently they should also be served with lingonberries. Admittedly, they were pretty good that way, channeling a sort of Thanksgiving vibe (think turkey and cranberry sauce).
While there are other Northern European meatball recipes that combine a gravy of sorts with meatballs, I think it’s safe to say that most people (hand raised!) will associate these meatballs with Sweden (and Ikea) above all.
I made these once using the combination of ground beef and pork listed in the ingredients, and once using 1 1/2 pounds of the “meatloaf mix” you can find in the meat section of many supermarkets. The latter is a combination of beef, pork and veal. Both worked perfectly.
Panko breadcrumbs are packaged dried Japanese breadcrumbs that are a little larger and flakier than their Italian cousins. These days they are sold alongside the other breadcrumbs, but if you have trouble finding them check the international aisle, too. I love their texture, which is a little lighter than the more finely ground version.
This recipe makes very saucy meatballs, which I served over orzo for friends and family, and then over couscous for a twist, also to high acclaim. You could cut the amount of broth and cream in half if you wanted more of a glaze than a sauce. I’m planning to do that when I make them for a holiday cocktail potluck party and serve them with cute little skewers.
Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes about 90 meatballs
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk, preferably whole
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup cream
1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
Handful minced fresh parsley or chives (optional, but adds nice colour and freshness)
In a large, deep saucepan over medium, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Add the shallots and saute for 5 minutes, or until they are softened, but not browned. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the egg, milk, breadcrumbs, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the beef, pork and shallots, then use your hands to combine until well mixed. Form the mixture into small meatballs, less than 1-inch in diameter.
Heat the same saucepan over medium-high, add the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides, turning them carefully, about 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan, then return it to medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until the flour turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the bay leaf, cream and broth, then bring to a simmer.
Return the meatballs to the pan, heat until the sauce thickens and coats the meatballs well and the meatballs are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, over pasta or rice, if desired. Top with minced parsley or chives, if desired.
Nutrition information per 6 meatballs: 170 calories; 110 calories from fat (65 per cent of total calories); 12 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 190 mg sodium; 6 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 11 g protein.