It’s only fitting that the original Sicilian witch (R.I.P. grandma) made just about the meanest red sauce an Italian American could hope to make. I never thought I would give this recipe away, but sharing is caring, right? I’ve tweaked her recipe a bit, because I like to steer more toward fresh ingredients–only grandma could conjure up magic using “onion flakes” (what, exactly, is an onion flake?)–and I think I’ve come in at a close second.
Meatballs (5 servings at 2 meatballs/person):
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup. romano or parmesan cheese, grated (by you)
3/4 cup. bread crumbs, unseasoned
1 tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup. onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
I like to start off by combining all of the dry (or somewhat dry) ingredients. Put the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, pepper, salt and herbs into a large bowl and mix until everything is combined.
Then, get chopping on the onion and garlic. A good way to speed up the process is by scoring the onion into thin slices, leaving the end intact for stability, then slicing at a perpendicular angle, like so (you can do the same with the garlic cloves):
It only takes a little more chopping, at your discretion, after this first step, but smaller pieces will help the meatballs hold together better. Put the chopped onions and garlic into the bowl and mix with the dry ingredients, then crack two eggs into the bowl and add the ground beef. Now, roll up your sleeves and get in there–the only way to mix all of the inregidents properly is with your hands. Mix and mash until all of the ingriedients seem evenly distributed in the meat, and don’t do this for too long or the meatballs tend to get tough. It should only take a couple of minutes. When you feel you’re finished, shape the mixture into a blob, then score it into quarters.
You should be able to shape 2 or 3 meatballs from each quarter, and if they end up uneven, just take from the bigger ones and add to the smaller guys, then reshape.
Next, get a large pan on medium heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs, and be sure not to overcrowd the pan–you can cook them in a couple of rounds, just add more oil after the first batch is done.
Ideally, your kitchen isn’t on the horrible slant that mine is on, and the oil is spread out a bit more evenly in the pan…
But anyway, let the meatballs cook for 3-4 minutes on this first side to get nicely browned, then flip them over to the opposite side and cook for 2 minutes.
Keep rotating the meatballs, cooking for 2 minutes at each new position. Rotating 4-5 times should suffice, and you don’t want to overcook them now, because they will continue cooking later when they are added to the sauce. When they are done, they should look somewhat like this:
DO. NOT. discard the oil in the pan once the meatballs are finished cooking — all that good meatball flavor is ABSOLUTELY necessary in order to make the gravy so dang good. I repeat: DO NOT DISCARD THE LEFTOVER OIL.
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, it’s sauce time:
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves. garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp. carrots, finely chopped
6 oz. tomato paste
1 can crushed or stewed tomatoes
1 large can tomato puree
1 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. sugar (NOT-SO-SECRET INGREDIENT)
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
Once you’ve removed the meatballs from the pan, lower the heat just a touch (from medium to medium low) and add more olive oil. Chop the half onion and garlic cloves using the same method as you did for the meatballs. Grab a carrot and, using a peeler, remove the skin, and peel 20-30 strips. Gather up the strips, and chop them as small as you can get them. Add the onion, garlic and carrot to the pan along with the dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent, 5-7 minutes, then add the tomato paste and stir well.
Let the mixture cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomato puree and the crushed/stewed tomatoes. Stir well, then add more salt and pepper to reseason, as well as the sugar, which does a lot to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, making the sauce less tangy. Now, nestle the meatballs back into the sauce, turn the heat down to a low flame and cover.
The longer you leave the gravy and meatballs in the pot, the better the sauce will be. I like to get everything finished in the early afternoon, then leave the pot on the stove and let it simmer until dinner time, stirring every once in a while. Serve with spaghetti and red wine, always. Mangia.