My mother makes wonderful meatballs. She has just the right touch and I haven’t found any that taste better than hers. I know every Italian thinks their mom makes the best meatballs; this is our family’s version. We called pasta sauce gravy when I was growing up when it had meat in it and sauce if it was meatless like a marinara. It is delicious whatever the name. Italians make meatballs but serve them as a separate course. Italian-Americans, on the other hand, serve them together, and that’s how I grew up eating them. The aroma of meatballs simmering in sauce on a Sunday morning is my favorite smell and my ultimate comfort food. Whenever my mom is making meatballs we can smell their heavenly scent outside the door of her apartment. I walk in and go straight to the kitchen to fork one or two–or three–meatballs directly from the pot. When making this dish always allow for family sampling before dinner begins, and there are rarely any leftovers. Do not try to double the meatball recipe; you must make individual batches for them to taste right. Don’t ask me why, it’s just how it is. Trust me.
My Mother’s Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef (85/15 or 80/20)
1 crustless slice of white bread
1/4 c. warm water (milk is optional)
1/2 c. Progresso Italian style bread crumbs
1/4 c. grated Parmesan or a mix of Parmesan and Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
In a large bowl place ground beef and use your hands to spread it out and break up the large clumps. In a small bowl place the slice of bread, then pour warm water over it and let it sit for a five minutes to absorb the liquid. In a third bowl combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and onion powder. Mix well. In a fourth bowl beat the eggs. Squeeze the bread out, saving the soaking water, and add bread to the meat along with the breadcrumb mixture and the egg. Mix with your hands until ingredients are fully incorporated. Don’t over mix or the meatballs will be tough. Dip hands into the soaking water and form 11-12 golfball-size meatballs. Heat a frying pan with 1/3-1/2 c. olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. You don’t need to cook them all the way through. They will continue to cook in the sauce.
My mother’s formula for her sauce: 64 oz. of tomatoes in any combination will yield, after cooking, 8 cups of sauce for 8 people.
My Mother’s Sauce
1/4 c. olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 large bone-in pork chops or a Boston pork butt bone with a bit of meat
1/2-1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 c. red wine (she uses Merlot)
2 (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, puréed in a food processor
1 (8 oz.) can Hunts tomato sauce
Italian seasoning, oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste
sugar to taste if tomatoes are slightly bitter
1 Knorr beef bouillon cube
2 batches prepared meatballs
In a 6-quart pot heat olive oil on medium high heat. When oil is hot, brown pork, seasoned with salt and pepper, on both sides. Remove pork and set aside. Add onions to the oil the pork has browned in and cook for five minutes to soften. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add red wine to deglaze pan, scraping up the brown bits. Let cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, herbs and seasonings to taste, sugar, and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil. Return browned pork to the pot. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add prepared meatballs and simmer, covered for 2 hours. You will need to use a spoon to skim the grease that rises to the top of the pot during cooking. You will do this 5-6 times. Stir often to prevent the sauce from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pot. Makes 8 c. sauce, enough for 1-1/2 lbs. of pasta.