If there is any food that evokes intergenerational and international comfort, it's meatballs. Not only do meatballs simply taste great, they are also present in nearly every cuisine and enjoyed by children and adults alike. Your mother probably made meatballs, as did her mother, and chances are that you also make your own.
As with many homey and rustic meals, meatballs are an economical means to stretch inexpensive cuts of meat by jumbling the ingredients together with extra fillers, such as breadcrumbs and egg, and plenty of herbs and spices for great flavor. Then, depending on the mood or craving, the meatballs can be braised in robust sauces and stews, ladled over noodles, swiped in dipping sauces and piled into double-fisted sandwiches. There is a meatball for everyone and every preference, and bets are that you've been nibbling on meatballs since you were old enough to wrap your fingers around them.
This is one of my favorite meatball recipes. The key ingredient is a generous amount of grated pecorino Romano cheese, which melts into the meat and adds rich, umami flavor. A kick of crushed red pepper flakes doesn't hurt either. (You can reduce the red pepper if you prefer a milder version.) These meatballs can easily be frozen, so if you make too many (never a problem) or double the batch, just wrap the extras in plastic and freeze for up to a month. Allow them to defrost overnight in the refrigerator before cooking.
Smothered Italian Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Yield: makes about 24 (1 1/2-inch) meatballs
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs
1 cup (packed) finely grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 tablespoon olive oil for pan-frying
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the meatballs:
Combine all the meatball ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large bowl. Using your hands, gently mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Shape the meat into 1 1/2-inch balls, without overworking the meat. (Wet your hands with cold water from time to time to prevent sticking.) Place the meatballs on a platter and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Prepare the sauce:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
Cook the meatballs:
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes, turning as needed. (The meatballs will not be cooked through at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
Add the sauce to the skillet and cook briefly over medium heat, stirring up any brown bits in the pan. Add the meatballs to the sauce and turn to coat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and grated cheese.
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