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Meatballs in Sugo

This recipe makes a generous amount of sugo, or “sauce” in Italian, so you will have plenty left over to serve with pasta as a primo or to save for another meal. Meatballs are prepared this way throughout southern Italy. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 slices coarse country bread, crusts removed and bread crumbled, about 1 1/2 cups 
  • 1/2 cup milk 
  • 1 lb. ground beef chuck 
  • 1/2 lb. ground veal 
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork 
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt 
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste  
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil 
  •   

For the sauce:

  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 2 cans (each 28 oz.) crushed plum tomatoes with juices
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces 

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix the crumbled bread and milk and let stand for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, veal, pork, eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Squeeze the bread with your hands to remove the excess moisture and discard the liquid. Add the bread to the meat mixture and mix gently until combined.

Rinse your hands with water but do not dry them. Shape the meat into 2-inch balls, rolling them lightly between your moistened palms. As the balls are made, set them aside on a large baking sheet.

In a fry pan large enough to hold all of the meatballs in a single layer, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning them occasionally, until crisp and browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and drain off all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pan.

To make the sauce, return the pan to medium heat, add the onion and sauté until softened and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices, stir well and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Stir in the basil.

Return the meatballs to the pan and cook, basting them often with the sauce, until hot and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a warmed platter and spoon some of the sauce over them; reserve the remaining sauce for another use. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).