Food & Drink

This Cedar Rapids cook combines Irish, Italian heritage in family recipes

Her recipe for meatball and macaroni is one you'll want to try

Carol Overbeck prepares pasta with meatballs, Italian sausage and pork at her home in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, December 8
Carol Overbeck prepares pasta with meatballs, Italian sausage and pork at her home in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, December 8, 2019. (Cliff Jette/Freelance for The Gazette)
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For Carol Overbeck, cooking is about family.

Whether it’s Sunday dinners and holiday meals with her children and their families, or cooking for her regulars for the 10 years she owned Beef O’Brady’s in Cedar Rapids, the New York native enjoys feeding others.

“Then I feel like I’m doing something good,” said Overbeck, of Cedar Rapids.

While Overbeck’s heritage is Irish, her mother-in-law was first-generation Italian-American. During the six years Carol and her husband, Steve, dated before marrying and moving to Iowa in 1979, her mother-in-law taught her how to cook Italian dishes.

Although the food was different, both Carol and Steve’s families had a tradition of Sunday dinners.

“My mother would cook a roast. At my mother-in-law’s, it was always a pasta,” Overbeck said.

Her mother’s dinners, she said, “were not the production they were at my mother-in-law’s.” Overbeck’s mother “might have wine on a holiday.” Her mother-in-law always had wine at the family dinners.

Sunday dinner is a tradition Overbeck has continued with her family.

While not everyone can make it every week, when the whole family is there, she feeds 14 — three children and their significant others and six grandchildren. The grandchildren are always at the main table or right next to it.

“That’s very important,” Overbeck said. “We keep them close. That way the whole family stays together.”

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While her mother-in-law gave her several recipes, “I don’t measure anything when I cook,” Overbeck said.

She also has tweaked those recipes over the years.

She started substituting semolina flour, which resembles corn meal, in her recipes. It used to be hard to find in Iowa, but it’s now in the health food section of supermarkets. (Overbeck uses Bob’s Red Mill semolina flour, which can be kept in the freezer).

And while her mother-in-law frequently included fish in her meals (including baccala, a cod that’s brined and battered, every Christmas Eve), “I’m not a big seafood fan. I don’t cook it that much,” Overbeck said.

While her Thanksgiving meals include the traditional turkey, the first course is always lasagna. All holiday meals start with a pasta, in the Italian tradition.

For Christmas Eve, the star of the meal is what she calls freets, dough that is rolled into small squares, about 8-by-8-inches, with everyone in the family choosing their filling.

Overbeck will make 15 to 20 freets, with anything from plain cheese for some of the grandchildren to pizza toppings inside. The dough is folded over the filling, crimped and then fried in oil.

Overbeck and her husband make much of their pasta themselves, using a hand-crank noodle press her mother-in-law gave her.

“She came up from Florida for my son’s christening, and she brought me this big box and she said, ‘You’re either gonna love me or you’re gonna hate me,’” Overbeck said. “But I love it.”

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Overbeck’s grandchildren like to help her make an Italian breadstick called tarrelles, also known as tarallis. They help roll out the dough and form it into the shape of a Jesus fish before the bread is boiled, then baked.

Overbeck and her oldest daughter, Kim Cousins, owned and operated the first Beef O’Brady’s west of the Mississippi River and the only one in Iowa. Cousins helped open her uncle’s first Beef O’Brady’s in Florida and would spend her summer breaks from Iowa State University learning the ropes of the restaurant business.

“We waited, and when Kim was getting married, we decided that would be the right time to open ours,” Overbeck said.

Located in The Fountains shopping area in northeast Cedar Rapids, the restaurant had a neighborhood feel to it, with many regular customers remaining friends to this day.

Since closing the restaurant in 2017, Overbeck has been able to enjoy her time at home, even taking a trip last summer that included stops in Italy.

And, of course, she continues to cook for her family.

Macaroni and Meatballs

Meatballs:

1 pound hamburger

1 egg

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

2 cloves garlic (or 2 teaspoonfuls from jar of minced garlic)

Sprinkle with parsley

Sprinkle with Italian bread crumbs (if still too wet after mixing, add more)

After mixing, if you can smell the garlic, you have enough; if not, add more.

Other ingredients:

1 pound cut of pork (such as boneless sirloin)

1 onion

1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes

1 large can (29 ounces) tomato sauce

basil

penne pasta

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1. Mix all of the ingredients by hand. Form meatballs that are about racquetball size. Place in a pot with some water on the bottom on high heat until browned on all sides. While browning, flip them gently from the bottom with a spoon until brown and firm.

2. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Overbeck uses a 9-by-13-inch pan lined with parchment paper.

3. While meatballs are baking, brown pork, sliced about 2 inches wide (can use a boneless sirloin roast) in the same pot you cooked the meatballs in. Brown both sides. Remove pork.

4. Slice an onion and add to the pot. When it’s soft, add both meats.

5. Add cans of crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce.

6. Sprinkle with basil.

7. Simmer on low 3 to 4 hours. Cool and place in refrigerator overnight.

8. Warm up meat and sauce and serve over penne pasta. Overbeck recommends using noodles with lines or grooves, saying they “hold the sauce better, which adds to the flavor.”

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