See Cook’s Notes below for a lighter version and other suggestions.
My family calls it “Gravy and Meatballs.” Whatever you call it, there is nothing like the smell of onions and garlic cooking in the house on a Sunday morning. As a little girl, I could remember waking up to my Grandmother or my Mom making the gravy early in the morning. I used to like to dip some Italian bread in the sauce and steal a meatball before the meal. In fact, my grandmother and my Mom would get so nervous that everyone was going to eat all the meatballs before the meal started! Most Sundays we ate dinner at lunchtime so cooking started a lot earlier in those days. Dinner would be around 2pm and last for hours.
These days we still hold to the traditional Sunday meal with my family and some close friends but we have it later in the day. Sunday dinner is a sacred time for Italians. It is a time to relive the week with everyone and have a relaxing dinner. We like to drink some wine, talk politics, religion, and naturally talk about food.
The best way to approach this recipe is to think of it in two stages. First, you get your sauce going and then, once that’s on the stove, you can add the meatballs later.
Sugar’s Marinara Sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 -28 oz cans crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 onion, chopped or 1 whole small onion
- 1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 can of water
Add the crushed tomatoes along with about a can of water and the basil. If you are using the whole tomatoes, blend them in the bender or use an immersion blender to chop them right in the pot.
Allow sauce to cook over medium high heat. Be sure the sauce is simmering but not boiling. Now, you can start your meatballs. While you do, be sure to turn / stir the sauce a few times with a spoon while it is cooking so the bottom doesn’t burn.
* For a lighter poultry version see notes below
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground veal
- 1 pound ground beef
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten in separate bowl
- 1 cup milk
- 4 slices of white bread (crusts removed)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano or mix half of each
- 5 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- A sprinkle of seasoned bread crumbs if needed
Cut the crust off the bread and discard (or save them for homemade croutons or breadcrumbs.) Cut the remaining bread into cubes and place the bread into a bowl and add the milk and mix. Set aside and let it soak up all the milk while you prepare the other ingredients.
Add the ground meat to a separate large bowl and sprinkle well with a good amount of salt and pepper. Mix with your hands lightly to combine the different meats with the salt and pepper. Then add the chopped garlic and the parsley and basil (if using it). Mix lightly again.
Then add the bread milk mixture along with the beaten eggs and the cup of cheese. Mix well to combine all the ingredients. Mixture will be moist. If it is too wet add a sprinkle of breadcrumbs.
Meatballs can also be boiled in a large pot of salted water for about 10 minutes or fried till they are browned on each side.
My family makes them all different ways so it depends on what you want.
Boiling and baking is naturally less fattening than frying. But I have to say that the fried version tastes so good, it’s worth it once in a blue moon. As a compromise, baking the meatballs gives you some of the flavor of frying but less fat so this is my preferred method.
Once the meatballs are cooked, they can be added to the sauce. Allow them to simmer in the sauce for about 45 minutes. Be sure to taste the sauce to see if the needs more salt and pepper.
Remove from heat and let the sauce sit covered while you make your pasta. I sometimes let the sauce sit for an hour or more before I make my pasta so there is no need to rush. It stays hot for a very long time.
Serve over cooked al dente pasta with a good quality grated Parmesan cheese. (We pronounce this “Par-meh-zhan”)
My family also serves pasta with cold ricotta cheese. We add a dollop of the ricotta on top or side of the pasta. (We pronounce this “ri-goodt”)
*For a lighter version of the meatballs, try this.
If you want to make this recipe leaner, you can use half ground turkey and chicken in place of the veal and beef. You can use only ground chicken but I don’t recommend using only ground turkey because the meatballs can be very dry. If the mixture is too loose and wet, add a sprinkle or two of breadcrumbs.
*Notes about the different types of tomatoes
The best tomatoes to use according to most chefs are San Marzano tomatoes. I do use these now and then but they are very expensive compared to others. I like Pomi, Hunts and many other products and tend to buy what’s on sale.
If you want to try the San Marzano I encourage you to do so but try different brands and even mix two brands when making the sauce. I find mixing the brands gives a good flavor.
My grandmother on my Mom’s side used to add a whole peeled carrot to the sauce while it cooked and then removed it before serving. She said it would balance out the acid in the sauce. My grandmother on my Father’s side used to put a pinch of sugar if the sauce tasted too acidic after cooking. I sometime add the carrot or at times add a pinch of sugar but only if it needs it.
I also vary the meatballs at times and add a little chopped onion to the meat mixture.
*Notes about using leftovers.
Leftover pasta can be saved in a Tupperware in the refrigerator and eaten within a few days. For leftovers we’ll eat the same week, we usually combine the pasta with some of the sauce and meatballs and refrigerate together. But, it’s also a good idea to set aside a small Tupperware with a little bit of extra sauce.
Finally, when I make a big batch of this, I usually (intentionally) have enough leftover sauce and meatballs for an additional Sunday night dinner. In other words, I make a huge pot of sauce so that I have enough to freeze for another meal. Cooking extra and freezing is a great way to have wonderful meals without spending too much time cooking each week.
When you’re ready for that meal, just take the frozen sauce and put in the refrigerator for a day or two and then just reheat it in a pot when you want to have pasta again. When you are reheating the sauce, be careful not to break apart the meatballs. You need to reheat it on very low heat. Then, just cook up a batch of fresh pasta and you’re ready to go.Print