This recipe is very special to me. It’s something I’ve perfected over the past 7 years to my own personal liking, and whenever I serve it, I get a look that just oozes, “Oh, no you didn’t”. Why yes, yes I did. And you can too…
Like I said before, this recipe went thru a whole lot of trial and error over the years. I’ve never made a bad batch of meatballs, actually…but I kept wanting them to be better each time. This took a lot of research, reading, scouring — you name it. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the science of meatballs, and how to make them more moist, juicy, flavorful, and memorable. I went back to a trick my grandmother used to do with her meatloaf and kinda modernized it, and used another trick from a cooking class that taught me how to get great, plump meatballs every time.
You see, most people make their meatballs with the typical beef/pork/veal mixture you can find in most grocery stores. I have always hated that stuff…just something about it was never right to me. So here we break it down by using one pound of 80/20 beef, mixed with one pound of pork — I prefer 1/2 pound each of sweet Italian and hot Italian sausage. And instead of using veal, we’re just going to use the good part of the veal — the gelatinous part. But we have to mimic it with plain unflavored gelatin (found in the Jello aisle). Trust me on this, it works. I remember the first time I heard of this tip and I was like “Um, what?”, but it really does make a difference and I get consistent results every single time I make these. Once the meatballs are in the sauce, the gelatin and the panade help soak up the flavorful liquid and they just get all plump and juicy and incredibly tender. I’ve literally had meatballs made by “all-knowing” Italian restaurants that were so tough and compacted, they had to be sliced open with a knife and fork. Who wants that? I sure as hell do not. I want fork-tender. So, with that said, trust me with the gelatin. I know it may sound weird but it truly does work here. Grating the onion helps open the cell walls and extract more onion flavor, it’s a method I use for many recipes. You’ll get a lot of onion juice, but keep that! Pour it into the sauce later, it’s great flavor. Just be warned, your eyes are gonna water like nobody’s business.
Let me back up a bit and explain what a panade is. It’s basically a mixture of bread soaked in dairy, which also help tenderize and moisten the meatballs. I use buttermilk here because it has acidic properties in it that further help break down the meat to tenderize it and moisten the proteins. My grandmother taught me that trick, but she didn’t use breadcrumbs — she used fresh white bread. That’s just something I never have on hand because we’re wheat-bread eaters around here, and you can’t exactly buy just 5 slices of white bread. But I always have dried breadcrumbs on hand, so I used panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and it works just fine. Panko gives you a better texture than regular breadcrumbs, and help the meatballs become more substantial. You just have to let the panko soak in the buttermilk for a good 10 minutes to reconstitute it. Aside from those key tips, the meatballs themselves are pretty darn simple. Easy to do, they don’t cost an arm and a leg, but they require a gentle hand and patience.
As far as the sauce goes, it’s also very simple. Takes a good 2 hours to complete from start to finish, and compliments the meatballs amazingly well. Flavored with fresh and dried herbs, grated vidalia onions, white wine, and a bit of this and that, it’s a very simple recipe I promise you’ll love and learn how to tweak to make your own. By adding tomato juice to the sauce, we give the meatballs extra liquid to soak up which only helps them in the end. Without it, the sauce will evaporate faster and the meatballs won’t be as juicy. My advice to you is to spend the extra money on parmigiano-reggiano cheese. It’s amazing and you can’t really substitute it. Don’t buy any pre-shredded parmesan cheese. If you can’t find parmigiano-reggiano cheese, get a block of the next best thing and finely grate it yourself. It’s truly worth the extra effort.
This is a great meal to make on a lazy, rainy Sunday while you watch a good football game and cozy up on the couch. Your home will be bombarded with amazing aromas that linger for hours on end, and your tummy will thank you again and again. This recipe only gets better the longer it sits, so be prepared for amazing next-day leftovers!
So, these are your ingredients for the meatballs. Beef, Italian sausage, proscuitto, cheese, parsley, garlic, eggs, gelatin, panade, spices.
A closer look at the panade. Which is basically a milk/bread mixture to moisten the meatballs. We’re using buttermilk for even more acidity, which help tenderize the meatballs even further.
Mix everything together by hand — GENTLY!! Overworking the meatball mixture can lead to tough meatballs. If you’re still mixing everything to combine after 15 seconds, you’re over-doing it.
All mixed up!
Using a 1/3 cup scoop, gather the meatball mixture and gently roll it between the palms of your hands to form a big juicy meatball. You should get about 15 meatballs the size of lemons. Bake them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes to get them started, they will finish cooking in the sauce.
Grate your onions using the large holes of a cheese grater, and keep as much of the onion juice as you can (separate). It’s great flavor that can be added to the sauce. If you don’t have a cheese grater, try to mince the onion as finely as you can with a knife.
Strain the onion juice and set to the side. Meanwhile, soften the onions in a large dutch-oven with a few tablespoons of olive oil for a good 6 to 8 minutes, or until the onions are kinda straw colored.
The meatballs have been in the oven for 20 minutes and will continue to get happy in the sauce. Just let them hang out until it’s their turn.
Once the onions have broken down a bit, add the dried oregano, crushed red pepper, herbs de provence, dried basil, and garlic. Cook for just 30 more seconds, you don’t want the garlic to burn.
Pour in the 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, 3 cups of tomato juice, half cup of Chardonnay (or white wine of your choice), reserved onion juice (if any), and tablespoon of tomato paste. Gently mix with a wooden spoon and bring the heat up to medium-high.
Allow the sauce to simmer over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. After 10 minutes, gently add one meatball at a time, careful not to tear or break them. Make sure they are covered in the sauce. Cover and let simmer for about an hour over LOW heat, gently stirring every 15 minutes.
After an hour, remove from heat and take this time to season the sauce. Add salt and pepper, and a little sugar if your tomatoes are super acidic. Keep the flavors simple. Gently mix the sauce with the meatballs together, careful not to break them, until it tastes perfect. Ladle about 2 cups of your sauce with the hot spaghetti to keep the pasta moist, then top with meatballs, grated cheese and fresh basil.
Listen…do you see that?
Unreal. This is my signature, go-to spaghetti and meatball method, and I hope you find it as easy to make as I do. Enjoy!Print