What is it about Sundays that makes me want to eat a big, Italian, family meal? I didn’t grow up around extended family and I don’t have a drop of Italian ancestry. Yet Sunday afternoon rolls around and I dream of a kitchen full of chatty relatives, chopping, stirring, drinking wine, and good-naturedly yelling at each other. (In my fantasy, I’m mostly drinking wine and yelling. Or is that in real life?)
I can’t claim Italian blood and thus neither can I claim authenticity for these meatballs, but mamma mia, are they good. Yet another recipe from the paternal grandmother, this one was always reserved for special occasions. In fact, up until her death, only my grandmother was allowed to make them, which meant we couldn’t eat them unless we endured an arduous car trip from North Carolina to New Jersey. Hours spent bickering on the gridlocked Garden State Parkway were rewarded with tender meatballs and chewy Italian sausage swimming in red sauce. I still salivate when I see Exit 82.
I always make a huge batch of meatballs so I can eat them for lunch later in the week. If you double the meat, you’ll probably only need to increase the bread, onion, and grated Parmesan by 50-75%. If you can’t find ground veal (or don’t want to use it), just use pork and beef or all beef. To stretch the meal (and make less work for yourself), brown some fresh Italian sausage and simmer it alongside the meatballs.
The sauce may or may not be the world’s most awesome invention. I’ve seen lots of variations around the interwebs so I can’t take credit, but I do think the red wine is crucial. You can add fresh or powdered garlic, double the onion, whatever. A lot of recipes call for using whole peeled tomatoes and crushing them after some cooking time, but if you’re adding meatballs this becomes rather difficult. Save yourself the trouble and just used the already-crushed tomatoes: taste-wise, it’s identical and although the texture is different it won’t be so obvious with the other stuff floating in it.
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/4-1/3 lb. ground pork
1/4-1/3 lb. ground veal
1 large egg
1 tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
4 slices of white bread or one large white roll, soaked in water
1 lb. sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into 2-inch chunks (optional)
1. After soaking the bread, press out as much water as possible by squeezing, then tear into small pieces.
2. Combine all ingredients thoroughly: use your hands to really mix it all together. Form into 2-inch balls.
3. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Brown meatballs in batches on all sides, turning gently. If you’re also cooking Italian sausage, brown it after the meatballs.
4. Add the meatballs and sausage to hot red sauce and simmer slowly for 1.5-2 hours. Serve over the pasta of your choice (I prefer rigatoni).
Awesome Sauce: World’s Easiest & Tastiest Pasta Sauce
Ingredients for ~1 lb. of meat and pasta; double for larger portions:
2 large (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes like Sclafani, Contadina or Cento
1 onion, peeled and cut in half but otherwise intact
4 Tbs. butter
4-6 Tbs. red wine
1. Empty the tomatoes into a heavy pot with lid. Add the onion, butter, and red wine and simmer 1.5-2 hours.
2. Just before serving, remove the onion and discard. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.