Everyday Meatballs and Sauce

Everyday Meatballs and Sauce | Cravings & Crumbs After suffering through the final late-October heat wave of summer, we finally have a fall chill in the air and it has me dreaming of comfort food!  Aside from a perfectly roast chicken there’s nothing more comforting to me than a big bowl of tender meatballs in tomato sauce.  It wasn’t always that way though.  As a kid I was pretty indifferent to meatballs.  I liked them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to request them.  No, like most things, I started liking them best once I made them for myself and got to research and tweak the recipe to get them exactly how I wanted. Everyday Meatballs and Sauce | Cravings & Crumbs It was a meatball starter at a local restaurant that spurred my current meatball obsession.  Made with high quality ingredients and cooked in a wood burning oven they were amazing!  And so I started trying to figure out how to get as close as possible to those meatballs at home, but I also wanted them to be something that was easy and accessible to make so it would be realistic even for a weeknight.  That meant no wood burning oven, no deep frying, and no veal.  Although many recipes use veal and surely it would make the meatballs softer, including veal in my go-to recipe would mean making a stop at a specialty market which just isn’t going to happen as often as I want to eat meatballs.  Everything in this recipe can be picked up at any old grocery store. Everyday Meatballs and Sauce | Cravings & Crumbs The other thing I did to make this recipe more accessible was to cook them in the oven instead of on the stovetop.  Frying meatballs in a pan is messy and you always have to do them in batches.  By switching to the oven we can cook all our meatballs at once, which frees us up to tend to our sauce, cook the spaghetti, or make the side salad.    Everyday Meatballs and Sauce | Cravings & Crumbs You don’t have to have them with spaghetti though!  (I’ll wait for the Italians to finish rolling their eyes at me…if they’re still even reading!  They already have their own recipe for meatballs.)  My favorite way to eat these is with homemade sauce and a bunch of crusty bread to soak it all up with.   Don’t be intimidated by the homemade sauce.  It doesn’t have to be some sort of all day marathon cooking session to get a good homemade sauce.  I take a cue from Marcella Hazan and just simmer canned tomatoes for about 45 minutes.  I add garlic, onion, and oregano, as well as some red wine to give the sauce more complexity.  Once you make sauce this way you may never buy a jarred sauce again.  I always come back to this method because the sauce tastes brighter and fresher and isn’t as sweet as the premade stuff.  Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, let’s just make our own garlic bread.  My standard recipe for that will be coming next!

Everyday Meatballs and Sauce
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For the meatballs
  1. 1 c. panko bread crumbs
  2. ¼ c. milk
  3. ¼ c. minced yellow onion
  4. 5 large cloves garlic, minced
  5. ¼ c. chopped parsley
  6. ½ t. dried oregano
  7. ½ t. crushed red pepper flakes
  8. 1 t. ground black pepper
  9. 2 t. kosher salt
  10. 1 lb ground beef
  11. 1 lb mild italian sausage
  12. 2 eggs
For the sauce
  1. 2 - 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
  2. 4 T. butter
  3. 7 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1 c. earthy red wine (such as merlot or cabernet sauvignon)
  5. ½ yellow onion, sliced through the root end
  6. 1 t. kosher salt
  7. 1 t. dried oregano
To make the sauce
  1. In a saucepot over medium low heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and slightly softened. You don’t want the garlic to brown, just to infuse the butter with its flavor.
  2. Add the tomatoes, wine, onion, salt, and oregano. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt.
To make the meatballs
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Add the panko and milk to a large bowl and allow to soak for about 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and mix everything together. This ensures all the flavors get mixed evenly throughout without overworking the meat.
  3. Add the meat and eggs to the panko mixture and gently mix with your hands or a spoon. You don’t want to work the meat too much or your meatballs will end up dense.
  4. Roll into balls a little larger than a golf ball, about 2 tablespoons. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray and place the balls in rows, spacing them about 1 inch apart. If the meat has come up to room temperature by this point I suggest refrigerating them while the oven preheats, but it’s not necessary.
  5. Put the meatballs in the oven and bake for 20-30 mins, depending on size. An instant read thermometer inserted into the middle of a meatball should read 165° F.
  6. At this point you can briefly simmer the meatballs in the sauce, or you can serve them as is with sauce on top (and lots of parmesan, obviously!)
Notes
  1. The meatball mixture can be made up to a day ahead or frozen. I like to freeze half the mixture in a quart size ziploc pressed flat so that it will defrost quickly.
  2. You can also cook the meatballs in advance and rewarm them in the tomato sauce, as I did when I made them for this post.
  3. You can make the meatballs larger or smaller based on your preference, just be sure to adjust the cooking time. You want them fully cooked through, but not dried out.
  4. This recipe makes about 32 meatballs.
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