Growing up, my freezer was always fully stocked with plastic containers of Grandma’s tomato sauce and meatballs. We probably looked like crazy people to most visitors, like we were preparing for the next apocalypse or something–but we were okay with that. Homemade sauce was always readily available at our house and it wasn’t your ordinary Ragu; it was rich and velvety with meatballs the size of your fist (Grandma wouldn’t mess around!).The smell of that sauce slowly bubbling over the stove was sweet, warm and welcoming. For me, it always smelled like home.
I often wondered why Grandma would go through all that trouble. I mean, we were just kids, sustaining mostly on Kraft Mac & Cheese or Shake N’ Bake. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between Grandma’s sauce and a can of Prego. And yet the sauce kept coming. It was a true labor of love. And since Grandma was so certain that Locatelli Romano at Costco was the best Parmesan cheese money could buy, she’d send a Tupperware of that too….freshly grated.
My Grandma has been gone for some years now, but when I made her sauce for my husband last week, I was flooded with all these memories– of freezers full of sauce and giant meatballs, of her vast collection of wooden spoons and making sure my brother and I never left her home hungry. It’s funny how a recipe can be so much more than a list of ingredients and instructions.
I’m sharing this with you in hopes that with your own personal touches, you too will have a freezer full of homemade meatballs and sauce to share with your family. It’s special, it’s from the heart too, but it’s also really freaking good. Enjoy!
I laughed a bit when I first saw her recipe. I always thought pasta sauce was complex, but this dish is on the simple side, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Don’t be tempted to use fresh tomatoes or you’ll end up with a watery mess.
Cook your sauce over VERY low heat. The sauce should bubble up every few minutes, but not constantly. Be sure to stir often to prevent it from burning.
I know my Grandma swears by Locatelli Romano cheese at Costco for her meatballs, but I couldn’t find it (sigh). I grated some plain old Romano cheese and it tasted devine. Parmesan would also work as a substitute.
The original recipe called for 1 pound of ground round, but when I make meatballs I like to mix a couple different kinds of meat. I used ground pork and ground round here, but the best meatballs I ever made had 1/3 ground pork, 1/3 ground round and 1/3 ground lamb. Play around with the ratios until you find the best combination for you. Just be sure to season the heck out of it before mixing in the other ingredients.
Add bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and beaten eggs. Using clean hands, combine the mixture just until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Over-mixing will result in dense meatballs so be sure to mix as little as possible.
Taking care not to over-mix the meat mixture, roll into 1-2 inch balls. You can make them any size you prefer (Grandma sized included), just be sure to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
Before I cook a full batch of meatballs, I fry up one on the skillet to test the flavor. Right away, I can tell if something’s missing–if I need more salt, breadcrumbs, etc. You can go ahead and adjust the rest of the batch to avert any potential disasters.
You could certainly bake your meatballs, but I like the crisp brown bits from frying. If you’re adding your meatballs to the sauce, you can brown on all sides and cook until almost cooked through. The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce. Since everyone rolls out a different size meatball, the best way to test for doneness is to cut open the largest one.
The recipe makes plenty left over to stock up your freezer.
Makes about 4 Quarts
- 2 Small Onions, Diced
- 4 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 4 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
- 2 28 oz cans, tomato puree
- 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 6 oz cans tomato paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cooked Meat (such as meatballs or sausage)
Heat oil in large (5 qt) saucepan on medium heat. Add onions and saute until golden, but not brown. Add all of the tomatoes and fresh basil, stir. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to very low so that the sauce occasionally bubbles but is not boiling. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add cooked meatballs (or sausage) which should be fully covered by the sauce. Continue cooking for another hour and add more salt and pepper if needed.
*This recipe was doubled from the original version to ensure a freezer full of sauce!
Makes 30 Medium Sized Meatballs
- 1 lb ground round (or combination of round, pork and/or lamb)
- 1 tsp salt
- pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup grated Romano cheese**
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2-4 Tbsp Canola Oil or Vegetable Oil
In a large mixing bowl, season meat with salt and pepper. Pour in bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, eggs and parsley. Mix with hands until just combined. Do not over-mix! Form mixture into 1 inch balls and place on a plate or baking sheet.
Heat 1 tbsp canola oil in a large skillet, over medium high heat. Add meatballs, taking care not to crown the pan and working in batches if needed. Turn meatballs frequently to ensure even cooking on all sides. Meatballs should be browned on all sides. Cut into the largest meatball to test for doneness. Add to sauce if desired. Note: if you are adding the meatballs to the sauce, they will continue to cook slightly.
**Original recipe calls for Locatelli Romano cheese at Costco. My family swears by that brand.
Makes 30 Medium Sized Meatballs