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Author Notes: This is a mash-up of all the meatball recipes I've learned over the years. The bread and milk keeps the meatballs moist and tender, making them delicious over pasta or on a sandwich. And, much to their chagrin, far better than my mother's and my grandmother's recipes. The recipe is also incredibly forgiving - the proportions of meat and other ingredients can be adjusted for whatever you happen to have in the house. Just don't leave out the fresh sage! —sgoyette
Makes 20-30 meatballs
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork (or substitute 1/2 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground veal)
- 3 tablespoons fresh sage, in small ribbons
- 2/3 cup grated parmesan or parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 chopped shallot (or 1 small onion, chopped fine)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup very stale Italian or French bread, cubed
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- dry breadcrumbs, as needed
- salt, to taste
- 4-5 grinds fresh black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Quick Tomato Sauce
- 2 large tomatoes, seeded and cut in quarters
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 12 oz. can diced or puréed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced onion
- Pour milk in a small bowl and add bread cubes. You may need a bit more milk depending on the type of bread you use. The bread will soak up the milk while you mix the meat.
- With hands, mix meat, sage, egg, cheese, shallot, and garlic. Then take the milk-soaked bread, squeeze it gently to remove excess liquid, and mix into the meat.
- Add salt and pepper to the mix. I usually start with a teaspoon or so and add more to taste, since the saltiness depends on the cheese used, but if you do not like to taste-test raw meat, keep in mind that the cooked meatballs can be salted a bit. If the mixture is too moist, add about 1/2 cup of dry breadcrumbs. You want the balls to be quite moist, but able to hold their integrity in the pan.
- Roll meat mix into 1 or 1.5 inch balls with hands. In a large non-stick pan, in batches if necessary, fry the meatballs in the olive oil. You just need a bit of oil in the pan to begin with, as the meatballs will generally render a bit of fat. If there is too much oil as you fry a second or third batch, pour off the excess. Don't worry if your meatballs aren't really round - they should develop a nice brown crust on 3 or four sides. You want to fry the meatballs until they are still pink in the center, as they will finish cooking in the tomato sauce. If you intend to use them just for sandwiches, cook them at a slightly lower heat for longer, until done through. Taste-test one from the first batch, and dust on a bit more salt if needed.
- While the meatballs are cooking - or before you begin the meatballs if you like a slow-cooked sauce - make the tomato sauce. Puree the fresh tomatoes in a food processor with the sage, garlic, and salt. In a sauce pan, fry the onions and garlic gently in the olive oil until tender. Pour fresh tomato purée into the pan and bring to a low simmer. Add the canned tomatoes. The combination of fresh and canned tomatoes makes an excellent quick pasta sauce that tastes great but will not overpower the meatballs. Add other spices and pepper if desired.
- When the sauce is hot and has simmered for about 10-15 minutes, and the meatballs have all been fried and have developed a nice brown crust on the sides, add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve over pasta, halved in sandwiches with mozzarella slices, or bring to a potluck in a Crock Pot. If serving over pasta, it's great to garnish with a few ribbons of fresh sage.