The Surprising History of Linguini and Meatballs
One of my favorite memories as a kid is Sunday dinners with the family. My mother, Rose, was an amazing cook and I can still smell the delightful aroma of her culinary creations. Every dinner was magical, the atmosphere punctuated with a cacophony of sounds, from the clanging of pots and pans to the laughter of my loud family members. I savored every minute.
In my mind, there was nothing more comforting than Sunday gravy with meatballs. My mom told me the story of how she learned to make this dish from her grandmother, who most likely learned it from her grandmother. It is no secret that our menu’s recipes originated in the old country and were passed down for generations. In our family, recipes are never written down; they are learned by watching, doing, and living. Of course, it helps to cook with an industrial-sized, well-loved pot.
Those Sunday dinners were more than just food. As we gathered around the table, it felt like time stood still, if only for a short while.
Spaghetti and Meatballs are ingrained in our culture. I think it’s impossible to enter kindergarten without learning the words to “On Top of Spaghetti,”but most people don’t know that spaghetti and meatballs did not originate in Italy! Shocking, right? Who would have thought?
Yes, Italians eat meatballs, called polpettes, but they are much smaller and consist of any ground meat, with variations that include chicken, turkey, or fish. Italian Fun Fact: in some regions of Italy, the word “polpette” is a term of endearment given to one’s love interest, much like “sweetheart.” While Italians love meatballs, they do not serve them with spaghetti or linguine.
This iconic dish is as American as apple pie and cheeseburgers — no, really! Linguini and meatballs originated with Italian immigrants coming to American in the late 1800s. During that time, most immigrants came from Italy’s southern areas including Abruzzi, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, and Sicily.
When the immigrants arrived, they had very little money and lived in poverty. As the immigrants settled, began their lives, and developed their wealth, the meatballs grew in size. When families could afford to buy more meat, the meatballs got larger. A large meatball meant that the family was doing well.
During that time, pasta was inexpensive, and oddly enough, linguini and spaghetti were typically the only types of pasta available to most Italian immigrants. Americans were used to having starch with their dinners, and pasta just made sense.
It should come as no surprise that these genius chefs had very little money to work with, but canned tomatoes were always available at the local grocery stores. They learned that if you let those canned tomatoes simmer with enough garlic, spice, and a pinch of love, you will end up with something glorious.
The Italian immigrants put all three ingredients together, and there you have it, the humble beginnings of linguini and meatballs. It is clearly an everyman’s dish.
As with any good story, there has to be a little bit of controversy. There is still a passionate debate about how to cook meatballs. Some say that you put them into the sauce as soon as you mold them; some say you bake them first, and others say you brown them in a frying pan. My suggestion? Make meatballs according to your family recipe; they’ll taste just like the Sunday dinners of your youth.
Ready to Join Us for Lunch or Dinner?
Eddie’s on Lake Norman is casual, and we want you to join us, especially if it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The deck will be waiting with littleneck clams and live music.If littleneck clams aren’t your thing, our menu also features lobster, king crab legs, snow crab legs, mussels, oysters, and a wide selection of fish.
Please keep in mind; we cannot take reservations at this time. If you have any questions about our safety protocols in response to COVID-19 or if you would like to learn more about our menu of offerings, give us a call at (704) 799-2090.
Thank you for being a part of our story.
About Eddie’s on Lake Norman
Ann-Margaret Wagner brings her hospitality and restaurant expertise from New York to the shores of Lake Norman with Eddie’s On Lake Norman. Ann-Margaret is the former owner of a successful restaurant in Westchester County, New York, called The Muscoot Tavern, an iconic “Cheers-like” bar and grille. After visiting Lake Norman, she fell in love with the area, saw potential in the restaurant, and decided to make North Carolina her new home with her daughter Lacy.
After purchasing the business, which was previously Vinnie’s Sardine Grille and Raw Bar, she completely renovated the entire space, sold the other restaurant, and moved south. The kitchen is filled with all new appliances, while the bar, dining room, and back patio were all touched up to create a clean, comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. Whether North Carolina, New York, or anywhere else, Ann-Margaret’s mission is always to provide the freshest seafood, prime meats, produce, pasta, and bread, every meal.
“I hope you enjoy eating our delicious cooking as much as we love making it for you!” Ann-Margaret
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