This is really a recipe for meatballs as it can be used with any good homemade tomato sauce or (if really pushed) a jar of Rao’s sauce of your choosing. I know that Rao’s is expensive, but it is the only one I have found so far that doesn’t contain copious amounts of sugar. That said, any homemade tomato sauce (even one that starts with canned or boxed tomatoes) will beat a jar any time. The key to moist and light meatballs is ….. water. I don’t remember any more what food writer noted that water works better than most other liquids, but my experience says that he or she was right! I use the same recipe for meatloaf and have included a note at the end of the Preparation section about the assembly and cooking time for meatloaf.
Notes: The meatball recipe makes at least twice as many meatballs as you will need for four to six people. Freeze the other half and you will have either meatballs for the future or a meatloaf. The meatballs can be cooked right in the sauce but they do add fat to it (good or bad depending on your point of view) along with flavor. If you prefer, they can be pre-baked in a 350 degree oven until some of the fat has been rendered and they are browned and partially cooked and then added to the sauce.
This recipe serves 4-6 depending on portion size
2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped AND
1 small yellow onion, minced (chopped very finely)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2 boxes (26.45 oz.) San Marzano crushed tomatoes
2 t. dried basil
1 t. dried thyme (or oregano if you prefer)
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef or ground sirloin
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground veal (or ground turkey if you can’t find/prefer not to use veal)
1 egg, beaten slightly
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 cup of Panko bread crumbs
1/4 to 1/3 cup of finely grated parmigiano (optional, but it improves both flavor and texture)
1 cup of cool/cold water
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. dried spaghetti or thin linguini
- In a pot large enough to accommodate the sauce and half of the meatballs, heat 2 T. of olivel oil over medium heat and add the large chopped yellow onion. Sauté until translucent.
- Add half of the minced garlic cloves and the green pepper to the onion and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, basil and thyme and stir to combine. (if you happen to have an open bottle of a decent red wine you can also add a glug of it at this point, but that is strictly if it happens to be on hand)
- Bring the sauce to a simmer and partially cover with pot lid. Simmer until sauce changes from bright to a deep red color and the flavors have combined nicely. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs.
- In a large bowl, place the small minced onion, the remaining minced cloves of garlic, the beef, pork, veal/turkey, the beaten egg, lemon juice, breadcrumbs and parmigiano (if using). Add 1/2 cup of water and mix gently just to combine. If the mixture feels dense add water 1/8 cup at a time, until it begins to feel noticeably lighter. At that point stop mixing.
- If the sauce is not yet ready, refrigerate meatball mixture until ready to use. You can also divide it in two at this point and freeze half for later use.
- With sauce still at a simmer, use your hands and half of the meatball mixture to make meatballs that are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and add to sauce to cook. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and cover leaving on stove to stay warm.
- While the sauce and meatballs are simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- When the meatballs are done, add the pasta to the salted water and cook for the time directed on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Serve the pasta and top with meatballs and sauce, along with more of the parmigiano. Note: If the sauce has become a bit too thick while on the stove, you can add a little of the pasta cooking water to thin it a bit.
You can take half of the meatball mixture and shape it into a freeform meatloaf. Make certain that the pan in which you cook it is big enough to leave room on all sides (so the excess fat can be released). You can place it on a rack in the pan if you want the fat to fully drain. For the meatloaf to remain moist it needs some kind of covering. A few bacon strips are the material of choice for me but, if you don’t want to add more fat the the meatloaf, you can also mix ketchup and brown sugar or use barbecue sauce to insulate the meatloaf. Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 to 65 minutes depending on the shape of your meatloaf. Allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes covered with foil before serving.