Papa’s Meatballs and My Red Sauce

When I was little, my family met up at my grandmother’s house every single Sunday for spaghetti dinner. My grandmother was Italian, but she couldn’t cook a damn thing besides Beef Stroganoff (I don’t know how an Italian woman learned to cook a stroganoff so rich that the Czar would have been drooling, but she did) and the Mocha frosting that my dad loved. My grandfather, Papa, was the one who did all of the Italian cooking. The funny part was that he was essentially a European mutt. He had Irish, Scottish, English, German, and a bunch of other bloodlines, no Italian in him whatsoever. But the man could make a fine meatball. 

During Sunday dinners, my family would war against each other with forks and knives and even bare fingers to claim the last meatball. Although Papa always made his meatballs comparable to baseballs, it  seemed like there were never enough for all of us to be satisfied, even though our bellies were protruding from our torsos. Since my Papa passed, the meatball master title has fallen upon me, and I am proud of my powerful position. Other members of my family have tried, and failed, to recreate Papa’s meatballs, but it seems that I’m the only one who can truly carry on the baseball-sized tradition. So now, I bestow this great gift of meatball knowledge onto all of you. 

This recipe starts with 1 lb. ground beef and 1 lb. ground veal. Normally, I’m against using veal because I can’t help but picture a baby cow’s big, innocent, brown eyes and  I can’t bear to eat it. But in this recipe, the ground veal makes the meatballs so soft and moist and beautiful that I’m willing to go to Hell for eating veal.  For those of you who feel truly evil for consuming veal, yes, you can just use 2 lbs. ground beef. For each pound of meat, add 1 whole egg and a cup of breadcrumbs. Add extra breadcrumbs if need be, you don’t want the meat to be gooey from the egg at all, you want it to be firm and compact well. 

I added about two teaspoons of basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary. I was quite free with my addition of garlic powder and red pepper, I wanted my meatballs nice and spicy! I would much rather have used actual garlic,  but all of ours had sprouted, and I didn’t really feel like picking a fight with some green garlic. 

I grabbed a handful of the ground meat at a time and compacted it into a tight ball between my palms, making it as round as I could. Then, I gently placed it in a frying pan that was already hot with oil. I repeated this process until I had no meat left. I gingerly turned the meatballs round and round so that all sides got nice and brown. Be careful with these not-so-little meatballs, though they’re hefty, they’re delicate. After the meatballs were mostly cooked, I placed them onto a paper-towel lined plate to soak up the excess oil. You don’t want the meatballs to be cooked all the way through yet, they will finish cooking inside the sauce later.

 I go a step further than my Papa ever did, I make my own red sauce! I grew up with Ragu, and although I will always have a soft-spot for that pureed, sugar-filled, passable tomato sauce, mine is a helluva lot better. 

I started by dicing an onion and mincing a Serrano pepper. I cooked them down in a large frying pan with salt, pepper, some garlic and red pepper. When the onions were mostly translucent, I poured in a fair share of stale red wine. Yes, it was stale. Because what else was I going to do with that old, opened bottle of Merlot that’s been sitting on top of my refrigerator for a month, acting more like a decoration than a drink? I let the onions cook down in the wine until they soaked up the liquid. Then, I poured in a few cans of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste and more of the same spices from the meatballs. I also added a few teaspoons of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. 

Then, I added the meatballs into the sauce and let them cook in the sauce for about an hour. The sauce cooked down so that it was super thick and savory. The meatballs stayed nice and moist while they sat in the sauce, soaking up flavor and adding a rich component as well. My meatballs turned out exactly like they used to when my Papa made them, he would have been so proud. I hope that your family fights over these like my family did, but with fewer fork-puncture wounds…….

Recipe for Papa’s Meatballs:

1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground veal
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp rosemary
2 tsp thyme
1 tablespoon garlic
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 eggs 
2 cups breadcrumbs

Mix all ingredients together. Compact meat mixture into large balls, as large as your palm. Round them into firm balls and place into a hot frying pan with oil. Let meatballs brown, turn them gently so that all sides brown. Place on a paper-towel lined plate to soak up excess oil. Place the meatballs in sauce for an hour to finish cooking and soak in sauce.

Recipe for Red Sauce:

3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced
1 Serrano pepper, minced with seed
1 cup dry red wine
1 can tomato paste
3-4 cans diced tomatoes
Red Pepper 
2 tsp sugar

Cook onions, garlic and Serrano pepper in large frying pan with salt and pepper. When onions are translucent, pour in red wine. Let it cook down until the onions have soaked up most of the liquid. Add cans of diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add spices and sugar. Simmer for 20 min. Add meatballs and allow to cook together for an hour.


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