So it’s about 94 degrees here and I’ve just finished making meatballs, first roasting and then braising them in the simplest of tomato sauces. At the beginning of September, I began to contemplate all the foods that speak so perfectly of fall: braised meats, risottos and stews, winter squash, apples, pears . Cozy, slow-cooked, warming things. And of course we are hit with a whopper of a heat wave as soon as these cozy, cool weather menus have come to fruition in my mind, and lined themselves up to provide sustenance for the next month.
There’s a lot of nuance to the old meatball. A lot of variation, a lot of opinion. But when you strip it to its essence, you’re essentially finding a way to stretch a cut of meat. There are eggs and breadcrumbs to bind, parsley and basil and parmesan for depth of flavor, a dash of milk, enough salt to taste, and a tomato sauce made of little more than tomatoes. It’s perfect.
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
3/4 lb ground beef
3/4 lb ground pork
3/4 cup freshly ground breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup grated parmesan
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup parsley
2 Tbs fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1.5 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
For the tomatoes: Many will recommend San Marzano; for this I used Muir Glen’s fire-roasted crushed, and they produced a beautiful sauce. What you don’t want is a canned tomato with added tomato paste.
For the breadcrumbs: pulse an old loaf of crusty white bread in a food processor until ground.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
To make the meatballs, combine everything in a bowl, and work the mixture conservatively with your hands until blended. You don’t want to overwork the ingredients, because it can result in a tough, dry meatball.
Form into 1.5 inch meatballs. This yielded about 40 for me. Arrange them on an oiled baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, until browned.
While the meatballs are roasting, the sauce can be made either using an immersion blender or upright blender. Blend just until chunky. Add the bay leaf.
Reduce oven temperature to 300. Place meatballs in a large roasting pan and spoon tomato sauce over them. Seal tightly with lid or aluminum foil. Roast for 1 to 1.5 hours. Serve as is, or with pasta if desired.