I have been making meatballs my entire adult life and I am 41. I didn’t learn as a child, tied to my mother’s apron strings as some would like to fantasize the Italian girl’s rearing to be, mostly because I didn’t like meatballs or the idea of them until I became an adult. As a child they grossed me out, as did most of my favorite foods of today (sardines, tomatoes) so I steered clear of eating or learning about them until I hit 20.
When the time was right, I learned easily how to make a meatball (second nature), but for years have been changing and rewriting my recipe and the more I tinkered with it, the worse my meatballs got. They always seemed to be too bland, too dry or too tough. Something was always off and my Italian boyfriend’s glares kept getting more grave as he kept saying,”Why are you trying so hard? Just stick to what you know!” He was right. I tried way too hard at different techniques but finally went back to basics this weekend to make the meatballs I remember my grandmother making and let me tell you-these were the best meatballs I have ever made in my life. No lie. Here’s what I did and the liner notes along the way.
Meatballs and Tomato Sauce
- 3 slices white bread
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/2 pounds equal parts ground beef, veal and pork
- 3 – 4 fat cloves of garlic, chopped up
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup basil, chopped
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- A couple of grinds of freshly grated pepper and salt
- 1/2 cup grated percorino romano cheese
- 1/4-1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- EVOO and Vegetable oil
Place the bread in a stack in a bowl and douse with the milk until soaked through completely. Wring the bread out as much as you can and crumble into a big bowl. It will be soggy but not dripping of the milk. Add the rest of the ingredients up to the breadcrumbs and then add the crumbs as needed to get it to the point where it is not too wet, but still moist.
Pour about 2 tablespoons EVOO and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil into a deep frying pan and heat to medium high. Once hot, drop meatballs in to the pan but don’t overcrowd. Meatballs should be no larger than 2 inches across, about the size of a golf ball or slightly larger. Stay close to the stove and with a wooden spoon, rotate the balls in the oil until lightly browned all over but not burned. Remove balls to a plate covered with a paper towel and keep going until all of the meatballs are done. Salt the plate of meatballs. To be continued…
But first, The Sauce
- 4 pork ribs or a small rack, whatever you can find, or you can experiment with most any kind of meat (nothing too lean)
- 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 4 large cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes (find your favorite brand and stick with it. This decision can make or break a sauce)
- 4 cups organic chicken broth
- 1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup of fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup of fresh oregano, chopped
- Salt and pepper
Pour a bit of EVOO into a large, heavy bottomed sauce pot and heat to medium-high. Brown the ribs on all sides -this is important to do so you can lock in the flavors. Once browned, remove to a plate. In the same pot, lower heat to medium and add chopped onions and stir, loosening any brown bits from the ribs. If you need to add more oil, do so. After a minute, add the garlic and red pepper and stir for another minute. Then add the tomatoes and broth and stir until combined. Add back the ribs and let the sauce simmer, uncovered on low heat for an hour. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn the bottom. Add the herbs and salt and pepper.
Back to the meatballs… it’s hard to overcook the ribs, so you have leeway. They are there to flavor the sauce. So at this stage, give or take 1/2 hour, add the meatballs that have been browned and make sure they are submerged in the sauce completely. Let cook for 1/2 hour and no longer. Any longer and the balls will start to break apart and the sauce will become watery.
Once the sauce with the meat and meatballs is done, we like to take all the meat out and serve it in a large bowl or platter and serve the sauce over our favorite pasta of the moment, with the meat on the side. If freezing leftovers, make sure you add the meat back into the sauce so any meat that is to be frozen is completely covered. You do not want to freeze exposed meatballs or they will not survive. I like to freeze some sauce without any meat and some with meatballs. I don’t usually hang on to the ribs because we’ve most likely eaten them already.
Rosemary Maggiore is our Last Minute Lady. A single mom of two kids plus a full time job (she runs this website!) keep her busy and usually pushing things to the last minute. Somehow she manages to keep her cool and her sanity while she enjoys good food, wine, friends and most importantly, family.
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