Family Meatballs, for the perfect family meal, or anytime.
The process, or maybe I should call it the art, of making meatballs is one that brings back some of the strongest food memories I have from my childhood. I remember coming home from school, and opening the door to a house full of the warming scents of tomato sauce cooking on the stove top– dominant would be the simmering garlic and onions, and fresh herbs from my mom’s garden. And if I had already missed mixing the meat with my hands, there would be the mouthwatering smell of the meat frying in olive oil. After I took in all of this, I would notice the Andrea Boccelli or Pavoratti blaring from the speakers in the living room. Other than Christmas Eve it is one of the few times I remember feeling really Italian. Meatball night was always an experience.
My Grandpa Pat took his meatball making quite seriously too. He jarred his own tomatoes for sauce, and kept his pork meatballs braising until they absorbed all their perfect balance of sweet and tanginess. He used milk soaked bread, which I have carried on in my recipe, to get the perfect light texture.
Meatballs are easy to make, and can be really inexpensive. You can also make a big batch and freeze them for later on, if there are any leftover. No longer just a vehicle for a good sauce, meatballs have become quite trendy here in New York City, with restaurants like The Meatball Shop (one of my favorites), and its new competitor The Meatball Factory. Different varieties from the classic flavors to buffalo chicken, and curried lamb, are appearing on menus all over the city. But no matter what, my favorite meatballs are still made at home.
For meat, I have always used a blend of pork, veal, and beef for the best flavor, texture, and the right amount of moisture– but any one or combination of these will work. For cheese, I usually both pecorino romano and Parmesan, but again, just Parmesan is fine if that’s all you have on hand. For a really special version, add 1/4 cup pine nuts, and 1/4 raisins, like one of my favorite restaurants and (closest to home Italian food I’ve had in the city), Frankie’s Spuntino does.
Gervasi Family Meatballs— makes about 20
2 cups white bread (1/2 of a 10oz rustic loaf, just scoop out the inside)
1 cup whole milk
2 pounds ground pork, veal, beef blend
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil if frying
4 cups of your favorite tomato sauce, of course homemade is best.
To bake meatballs, a little quicker and healthier, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Soak white bread in milk until fully soaked, about 1 minute. Squeeze out and discard liquid, rip bread into small pieces and add to a large bowl. Combine all other ingredients, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix throughly with your hands. Form into roughly 20 balls that are in between the size of a golf ball and tennis ball.
Either bake the balls for 25 minutes, or fry in batches until all sides are nicely browned. They should be just cooked through. Once cooked, add to a large pot with tomato sauce, and cook for an additional 30 minutes so that some of the sauce can be absorbed. Because the meatballs are already cooked through there is no need to cook them longer than this.
If freezing, do not add to sauce, and instead store room temperature meatballs in a plastic ziplock bag for months in your freezer. Cooled sauce also freezes well in plastic bags.