Welcome to Food We Love, our Sun-Times video series featuring stories about Chicagoans family food traditions, secret recipes, special ingredients and unusual favorite dishes.  Each week we’ll hear a new story about food and family and learn some amazing recipes that you can try at home. Our host is Chicago journalist Linda Yu who loves cooking at home, as well as exploring new restaurants throughout the city.  

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Today’s episode: Cooking Italian meatballs with Chef Tony Priolo

Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

Cooking Italian meatballs with Chef Tony Priolo

Piccolo Sogno…. in Italian, it means “little dream.” It was Tony Priolo’s big dream to open his own restaurant, serve rustic Italian food and see the dream become a success. His dream came true. Plenty of foodies head to Chicago’s West Loop to taste the cuisine and enjoy some of the huge wine collection. First time visitors are in awe of the restaurant’s beautiful year-round outdoor patio and call it a heavenly experience.
Being a chef means putting in long, grueling hours. Despite that, Tony does his best to keep his family first. At Piccolo Sogno, we’ve talked about Tony’s wife and little daughter and how he is continuing a tradition by teaching her to love food the way he does.

Inspired by His Grandmother Faye

Tony’s earliest memories are of the importance of family: sitting in his grandmother’s kitchen, watching her cook, listening to her stories, learning how to make the food he loved. She didn’t stop there. She took young Tony with her, riding the bus, going to Italian markets, then specialty markets … to find just the right ingredient, always the freshest ingredients. He suspects he became her favorite grandchild because he loved those trips to the markets , as well as lots of stops to bring home made dishes to family friends.

Chef Tony Priolo prepares a pizza at Piccolo Sogno. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chef Tony Priolo prepares a pizza at Piccolo Sogno. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As he grew up, Tony realized he was much more interested in what was going on in the kitchen than in the soccer fields. So, he became a chef. He clearly believes he chose this life because of his grandmother and became a better chef because he remembered the lessons she taught him. Tony’s second restaurant is named Nonnina, in her honor. Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother; Nonnina is an endearment.

Linda Yu and Tony Priolo having fun in the Sun-Times kitchen. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Linda Yu and Tony Priolo having fun in the Sun-Times kitchen. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

At Nonnina, Tony serves his grandmother’s meat balls, a dish he can make with his eyes closed since he learned how to make these meat balls when he was a little boy. As Tony taught me, you can make them large, you can make them small. Either way, they’re delicious. I hope you’ll watch the video at Chicago Sun-Times.com.

This recipe uses ground chuck, ground pork butt and ground veal shoulder to make the meatballs.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

This recipe uses ground chuck, ground pork butt and ground veal shoulder to make the meatballs.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Always use plenty of parmesan cheese. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Always use plenty of parmesan cheese. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Grandma Faye's meatballs

    Ingredients

    • 1 lb. ground chuck
    • 1 lb. ground pork butt
    • 1 1b. ground veal shoulder
    • 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
    • ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/8 cup olive oil
    • 2 cups diced bread soaked in milk
    • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
    • Breadcrumbs

    Directions

    Getting the chopped Italian parsley to mix in with the other ingredients.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    Getting the chopped Italian parsley to mix in with the other ingredients.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    Molding meatballs with three different types of meat. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    Molding meatballs with three different types of meat. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    After you make the meatballs, roll them in breadcrumbs.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    After you make the meatballs, roll them in breadcrumbs. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    1. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients, except salt, pepper and breadcrumbs.
    2. Add salt and pepper, mixing in well. Set aside, let settle for 15 minutes.
    3. Begin rolling mixture into 3-ounce sized meatballs, or size desired, individually roll in breadcrumbs, covering completely.
    4. In a cast iron pan add a little (enough to cover bottom of pan) olive oil to brown meatballs on all sides.
    5. Remove meatballs from pan. Place on baking tray and cook for 8 minutes in oven at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, let stand to rest. Serve with pasta as a meal or alone as an appetizer. Enjoy!

    Getting ready to sample the finished product | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    Getting ready to sample the finished product | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    Grandma Fay's meatballs. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

    Grandma Faye’s meatballs. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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