[We have a wander around Italy on the hunt for the most typical dishes of our heritage. Which you can also replicate at home, if you fancy. That’s right, because we’re also going to give you the recipe!]
The fragrant smell of tomatoes gently simmering, perhaps in an earthenware pot... The aroma of meat wafting around – delicate, instantly mouth-watering. Between the buildings, white sheets hung out to dry – the rustle of fabric being shaken by the wind...
This is perhaps one of the most characteristic images of Italy, so famous that it has almost become a cliché – perhaps even topped with a grandmother wearing an apron, rolling pin and clothes pegs in hand.
We’re talking about the one and only sauce with meatballs!
As with many popular dishes, not only does every family have their own special recipe, but every family also thinks their recipe is the undisputed champion! With garlic, without garlic, fried first, with bread and milk in the mixture or just plain flour... there are countless variations of meatballs. And we’re only talking about Italian recipes here: perhaps you also have your own special knack for rustling up some knockout meatballs.
And, of course, I too have my own secret recipe! To be totally honest, this pedigree does not belong to my own family, but rather to the grandmother of a childhood friend of mine: a Sicilian lady who used to make meatballs, which I would gorge myself on until I could physically eat no more. Please bear in mind that they are best in moderation!
GRANDMA’S MEATBALLS IN SAUCE
[preparation time: 30 minutes + cooking time (one hour plus)]
Ingredients [serves 4]
- 220 g beef (minced)
- 160 g fresh sausage
- 30 g bread to make breadcrumbs (crustless bread will still work fine)
- 3 tablespoons of grated cheese (preferably Parmesan)
- 1 egg
- Nutmeg (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 pinch dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Salt (to taste)
- Pepper (to taste)
- Ingredients for the tomato sauce
First things first, prepare the base for a classic tomato sauce [which you can find here]. Leave it to simmer.
Then it’s time to move on to the mixture for our meatballs. Crumble the bread into small pieces. Blitz it in a blender until you get fine breadcrumbs.
Gently slice the sausage lengthwise and ease it out of its casing: you only want the meat, no skin. Chop up the sausage meat with a knife or mash it with a fork – the important thing is that it becomes a paste.
In a large bowl, mix the sausage meat and minced meat together with your hands. Add the oregano, a generous grating of nutmeg and the parsley.
Then, add the cheese and breadcrumbs. Last but not least, add the egg.
Now comes the fun bit! Roll up your sleeves and start kneading, slow and steady. Set aside any thoughts about the thousand and one other things on your to-do list, and now is definitely not the time to be thinking about a manicure. Your mixture should be consistent, with no lumps of egg yolk or sausage pieces: soft, well blended.
Season with a touch of salt and pepper and give it one last, vivacious kneading.
Now it’s time to shape your meatballs: roll the mixture into small, compact balls (this recipe should make about 20) one by one, rolling them between your hands.
Place your meatballs one by one in your tomato sauce, which has been simmering in the meantime, soaking them as much as possible in the sauce, without disturbing them too much.
Turn down the heat, cover the pot and you’re free to work through some of those other thousand and one things you set aside earlier. Remember: your meatballs in sauce should not be touched while they’re cooking – especially at the beginning – or else you risk them falling apart. After all, the heat is set at a minimum, so there is no need to be stirring things up.
Your meatballs can simmer away for an hour or more, depending on how much time you have. About ten minutes before switching off the heat, remove the lid to let any excess water evaporate. Your sauce should have taken on a rich, dark red colour, just like my (friend's) grandmother's.
Can you smell that aroma wafting through the house? See, I’ve brought you to Italy without you even having to leave your house! 😉
You can enjoy your meatballs with pasta, or simply as a main course in their own right – accompanied by a nice slice of bread for mopping up, of course. And voila!
Buon appetito! 💗