I can barely separate the memories of my grandma from my memories of eating her gravy and meatballs. Gravy, also known as red sauce or pasta sauce, was something Grandma served twice a week. Yet we never tired of it.
When I was in graduate school, my Grandma came to visit and decided it was time to pass down the recipe. I still have her handwritten notes on what is now a stained, faded, and much-loved piece of paper. While I can't share my grandma's secret family gravy recipe, I will share how she makes her meatballs. It's probably not terribly unique or groundbreaking. But it is how she, now 93, has made her meatballs for years. It’s how her mother, and probably her mother, made hers. And it dates back to Italy in the 1800s. Why mess with it?
2 lb. ground beef or turkey (I use turkey)
1 c. bread crumbs
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 t. onion powder
1 t. each of dried basil, parsley, oregano, or 2 T. each of fresh
In a small bowl, crack eggs and mix until uniform in color. Set aside. In a large bowl, blend bread crumbs, onion powder, garlic, and herbs. Add ground meat to bowl, pour eggs on top, and use hands to gently knead meat until breadcrumb mixture is well blended. Do not overmix, and take care not to break meat into small bits. Gently roll mixture into meatballs roughly 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
These may be prepared in two ways:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet, and place meatballs two inches apart. Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. These may not be cooked through, but that's fine, because next they’re going to simmer in sauce.
In a large skillet, pour a thin layer of olive oil. Heat to medium high. Carefully place meatballs into oil, two inches apart. Fry in batches as necessary. Turn occasionally so that all of the sides become browned. Cook about 10 minutes, until browned, then remove with a slotted spoon or spatula. Again, they may not be cooked through, but they will finish cooking in sauce.
Finally, boil a pot of water for pasta, and heat a batch of your favorite (or homemade) pasta sauce in a medium-sized pot. Place meatballs into sauce and simmer, the longer the better. My grandma cooks them for three hours, but on a busy weeknight you can leave them for 30 minutes while you make a salad, throw in a load of laundry, or help your kids with their homework.
Remove meatballs from sauce, pour sauce over cooked pasta, and, as my Grandma says, mangia and enjoy!
Stephanie Sandler is a Fishkill mom who blogs weekly about gluten-free cooking and more.