An Italian American staple, good meatballs aren’t as easy as they might seem. It takes a certain finesse to get them just right. For us, this recipe (which comes with gluten-free amendments) makes a meatball that falls somewhere right in the middle when it comes to texture — not too hard, not too moist — while using a different approach of baking, not frying. And, while the sauce recipe calls for some good-old American brands, it tastes like it was made in the Abruzzo!
Who taught you this recipe?
My mother, Elodia.
How long has this recipe been passed down through your family?
Three. My mother started making these when she came here from the Abruzzo. I now make them, and my children do as well.
When does your family use this recipe?
When don’t we?! It’s a Sunday dinner favorite. Sometimes a birthday dinner request. I also make them for family reunions, picnics, and even Christmas.
What is your favorite memory of cooking this recipe?
The day my mother taught my daughter and son to make it. We went over to her house and they brought a notebook to copy everything down. They kept asking her “how much” for each ingredient. She would just shrug and say “I don’t know, a couple handfuls.”
What they didn’t get was that there were no measurements when it came to Italian cooking. Everything was a handful, a pinch, the length of your pinky…
I tried my best to convert the measurements for the purposes of publishing this. Of course, they may be slightly off. I probably should have just photo-copied my hand to use as a size reference and stuck to labeling everything “a handful!”
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Mazola Corn Oil (yes, I’m serious — my parents were poor immigrants and this is what they could afford. I use extra virgin olive oil today, but I am including all their original ingredients).
One small onion
Two garlic cloves
One 6 oz. can of Contadina Tomato Paste (no salt added) or 1 16 oz. can of Hunts Diced Tomatoes (no salt added) if you like a more textured sauce
One 29 oz. can of Contadina Tomato Puree
One slice of soft Italian bread
One cup of Italian breadcrumbs
One lb. of ground beef
One lb. of ground pork
One lb. mild Italian Sausage (optional)
1/2 cup of grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped Italian parsley (a handful!)
To make the sauce —
Heat one quarter-inch of oil in a pan on medium heat.
Cut up the onion and add it to the warm oil.
Toss in two whole garlic cloves with the onion.
Add about twelve shakes of pepper.
Let the onions and garlic simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the 6 oz. can of Contadina Tomato Paste or the 16 oz. can of Hunts Diced Tomatoes (whichever you prefer). Then add the 29 oz can of Contadina Tomato Puree. *If you want more sauce, add another 8 oz. can.
Stir in 1/2 can of water from the 29 oz. can. If the sauce seems too thick, throw in a little more water.
Then, add many, many shakes of salt.
Put the lid on your pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the sauce simmer to a boil.
Once boiling, turn the heat back down to medium-low and cook for 3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
The longer you cook the sauce, the thicker it will get. If it ever gets too thick for you, just add some more water.
To prepare the meatballs —
Soften the slice of Italian bread with water, squeezing the excess.
In a large bowl, mix the ground beef and ground pork with the moistened bread, breadcrumbs, eggs, grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste (I use both liberally).
Once everything is blended together, form the meatballs (about 1 and 1/2 to 2 inch diameter) and place them in a baking dish about 1/2 inch apart.
Once the baking dish is fully lined with meatballs, cover it with foil.
*If you are including sausage, cut links into 1″ pieces and line baking dish with them as well, alternating with the meatballs.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the covered dish of meatballs (and sausage) for 25 minutes. Then, turn over each meatball and bake them again (covered) for another 25 minutes.
Remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil. Add your sauce to the dish (be sure to leave all the drippings in the dish with the meatballs and sausage).
Switch the oven to low broil and place the meatballs and sauce back in. Let it simmer in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley.
You can serve these on their own, or over pasta!
I have a daughter and granddaughter who are gluten-free. I simply leave out the slice of bread and use 1 and 1/2 cups of gluten-free breadcrumbs. I also add a little water to compensate. They still taste great!