Meatballs and Tomato Gravy

My cousin Emily wanted some of our grandmother’s recipes, so I thought I should probably put them somewhere where they can’t get lost- like here. Also, I don’t think the meatball one has ever been written down anywhere, and it’s really good, so I want to preserve it. Recipes are below:


1. garlic clove
2. equal parts ground beef, pork and veal (if you can’t find ground veal or it’s too expensive, get two parts ground beef and one part ground pork. I’ve made these with all ground turkey and, while they’re healthier, they aren’t nearly as good.)
3. egg (one-two per pound of meat, depending on the size of the egg)
4. crushed garlic (you can use fresh cloves if you wish; I’ve taken to using the jarred stuff)
5. hot pepper flakes (to taste)
6. chopped onion (um, to taste, I guess- I usually chop up a small onion and use half for the tomato gravy and half for the meatballs)
7. breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning (or plain breadcrumbs- I make mine by putting stale bread in the food processor- with basil, parsley, and oregano added- four shakes each of dried herbs; as much as you want if you’re using fresh)
8. Grated Parmasean cheese (Romano works as well)

Skin garlic clove by placing it under the flat side of a knife blade and hitting the blade with your fist; this will split the skin away and break down the garlic.
Rub the garlic around the inside of the bowl; throw out or save for gravy
Mix #’s 2-6 in bowl. You’re going to have to use your hands; it doesn’t work the other way.
Add breadcrumbs and cheese until the meat holds its shape but doesn’t look bread-y. You shouldn’t be able to identify the breadcrumbs in the mixture; they just absorb the egg and the fat and act as a kind of binding agent.
Form into balls.

IF you are making gravy (and you are, aren’t you? You should be!), throw these meatballs in to the pot once you turn the heat down to a simmer. Let them cook for at least two hours. My mom, who somewhere along the way went from eating raw meatballs to being uber-paranoid about uncooked meat, pan fries them for a few minutes before she puts them in the gravy. I don’t, but don’t tell her.

*It may take a while to get a sense of the proportions for breadcrumbs to meat. If they meatballs taste dry, less breadcrumbs. If they don’t hold their shape, more. Less is better than more.
*It will also take a while to get a sense of the cheese. I don’t measure and I don’t remember Grandma measuring. You really can’t taste the cheese when you do it right, but you’ll know if you don’t use cheese- it just gives the meatballs a texture. You should never have strings of cheese when you cut into a meatball; that means you used too much.

Tomato gravy:

1. extra virgin olive oil
2. onion (half small onion, chopped)
3. garlic (crushed)
4. red pepper flakes
5. oregano
6. parsley
7. basil
8. bay leaf
9. 2 cans crushed tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes cut up
10. 1 can tomato paste
11. any pork or beef bones you have lying around (you DO keep a collection of these, right?)

If you have a cast iron pot with a lid, now is the time to use it. I don’t know why, but this tastes better in one of those.
Heat pot over medium-high heat
Add 2 Tbs olive oil (must be extra virgin, which comes from the first pressing of the olives- all else is from secondary pressings and can be bitter) to pot
Add crushed garlic (2 Tbs or to taste) and onion and ingredients #4-7 (a couple shakes of each dried but as much as you want fresh.
Add one or two bay leaves
Saute these items for just a couple of minutes and then…
Add tomatoes and paste
Add bones if you have them (I almost never do- Grandma told me to put in a beef bone and a small pork bone, but, really, who has these around?)
Bring to a low boil; add meatballs now if you’re making them
Bring heat to low, cover, and let cook for a minimum of two hours. More won’t hurt it.
Remove bay leaves (or not, but don’t eat them- they’ don’t taste good)
Will freeze or can just fine.

Fresh tomatoes: I’ve taken to using fresh tomatoes because there are so damn many of them here. If you want to, fine, but make it this way a few times first to get a sense of how many tomatoes will look right. Don’t take the skins off; just cut off the top stems and any bad parts. This gravy will look a little different and may be a but watery. You should still add a can of paste. You can remove the cover and bring the heat up to medium for the last half hour if you do this; it will let some of the water cook off (your kitchen will be steamy)

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.