Tomorrow, March 9th is National Meatball Day! Although Spaghetti & Meatballs are an Italian American invention, Italians do eat meatballs, though not with their pasta. Meatballs in Italy are a dish one makes at home, and you would very rarely ever find them on a restaurant menu. Meatballs are called polpette, tiny meatballs are polpettine, and large meatballs (or meatloaf) are called polpettone. In Italy, meatloaf, as we know it in North America, is either a large log of ground meat stuffed with a selection of ingredients or the meat is shaped into large balls known as polpettone.
I have made a number of vegetable-based “meatballs” in the past, and in fact have a number of meatball recipes for Bread & Cheese Meatballs,Veal Meatballs With Sage & Marsala, Pancetta Wrapped Polpettone in Red Wine Sauce, Nonna Spaghetti & Meatballs, Chicken Meatballs, Lentil Meatballs, Turkey Meatballs, and Veal & Ricotta Meatballs, on the blog, but for National Meatball Day I wanted to make a more traditional meatball dish. I like to combine both beef and pork in this recipe, and you can even stuff these meatballs with a cube of mozzarella cheese if you want to surprise your family. I learned how to make fantastic meatballs from my Italian Mother-In-Law, and her meatballs which are cooked entirely in the sauce are the best meatballs I have ever tasted. Because I was making gigantic meatballs, I worried that they might fall apart in the sauce so I first baked them on their own to firm them up before adding sauce to them up. The one trick I learned from my Mother-In-Law to make very tender moist meatballs, is to add fresh bread soaked in milk to bind the meatballs along with an egg.
Since it is a day celebrating meatballs, I decided to really go for it and made just four large meatballs. You could certainly make smaller meatballs which would feed more than only four people if you wanted to. I serve these meatballs with a big scoop of sauce along with slices of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and brushed with olive oil. They are also delicious served with some pasta tossed with the sauce used to cook the meatballs.
For The Sauce:
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1/3 Cup Finely Chopped Onions
- 4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
- 1 (28 Ounce) Can Chopped Tomatoes
- 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Fresh Basil
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 4 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- 1/2 Teaspoon Red Chili Flakes (Optional)
For The Meatballs:
- 1 Pound Ground Beef
- 3/4 Pound Ground Pork
- 2 Slices Light Wheat Bread
- 1/2 Cup Milk
- 1/2 Cup Ground Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese
- 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley
- 1 Large Egg
- 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- Salt & Pepper
- 1/2 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan.
- Add the onions and garlic to the oil and cook, stirring often, until the onions soften, about 4 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, parsley, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if using and mix well.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
- Keep the sauce warm.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, tear the bread into pieces and pour the milk over the bread.
- Let the bread soak, squeezing it to mix well with your fingertips.
- In a medium sized bowl, add the meat, moistened bread, along with the rest of the meatball ingredients.
- Mix until well combined with your fingers, then shape into 4 (or more) large balls.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. and place the balls on the prepared pan.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the meatballs from the oven and transfer them in a deep oven-proof casserole dish.
- Pour the sauce on top, then return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes.
- Turn on the broiler to high, sprinkle the meatballs with the extra cheese and broil just until the cheese begins to brown.
- Serve hot with slices of grilled Italian bread, or with a side of pasta tossed with some of the sauce.