I have this tattered, yellowed and spattered index card with a recipe on it. Not just any recipe but our family’s most treasured recipe. When Mike, my husband, moved away from home back in the 70’s, the one thing he requested from his mom was the family Italian Meatballs and Sauce recipe. His mom dutifully typed it out on an index card. He even had it laminated!
After more than 30 years, the lamination has worn off and it’s covered in grease spatters and stains but it is by far our most used recipe. With a name like Battistelli you can figure out he’s Italian and good Italian that he is, he will consume pasta in any form. ANY. His absolute favorite meal is his mom’s homemade Italian Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce. Whenever I make it, I have to make enough to have plenty left over to freeze for Sunday night dinners. And my daughter Francesca? Just ask her what’s her favorite food, what does she love more than anything? The Battistelli family Italian Meatballs and Sauce!
But there’s an incredible secret to making tender meatballs. I’ll tell you in a sec, okay?
I had to do some arm twisting to get Mike to agree to let me share this recipe with you. It’s a family heirloom after all! But he agreed (after I promised to make him some) so here it is. But you have to promise me you will use FRESH GARLIC, not that jarred stuff, and freshly grated cheese. If you use ground turkey instead of ground beef, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell Mike!
The master at work!
Forming the Meatballs.
Meatballs browning in the pot!
Saute the onions and garlic in the meatball drippings. Smells amazing!
Add the other ingredients. We have lots of fresh basil so we added about half a cup, chopped.
Add Meatballs back in and cook down on very low heat for a couple of hours.
Looks incredible doesn’t it?
Here you go- Mike’s Famous Italian Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce, a recipe straight from his Italian grandmother to his mom, to me, and now to YOU!
Mikes Italian Meatballs
Makes about 3 dozen meatballs or about 6 dozen small meatballs for an amazing appetizer to take to your next party!
- 2 pounds grass-fed ground beef
- 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs, I use these organic ones: Organic Breadcrumbs, Italian Herbs
- 1-2 cups grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. Do yourself a favor and grate fresh cheese, it’s so much better!
- 4-5 large cloves fresh garlic chopped fine
- 1-2 teaspoons sea salt
- several grinds of pepper
- 4 teaspoons parsley flakes or 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 6 organic eggs
- Olive oil, about enough to come about an inch up the sides of your skillet
Mix all ingredients together, blending well, in a large bowl. Don’t overwork the ground beef, you don’t want your meatballs to get tough.
I promised you a secret ingredient right? Here it is:
I know what you’re thinking. “WATER? Is she joking?” No I’m not at all and here’s why. Water is the key to making meatballs tender. You know they’re wet enough when they barely hold their shape. So add what you need. Start with half a cup and go up from there.
Shape mixture into balls, about an inch or bigger if you like, and brown in olive oil on both sides in a big, deep pot. Because the meatballs are soft, they won’t be perfectly round when they’re cooked. In fact, some of them may fall apart but that’s okay as they will just make the sauce even richer! You will cook them in batches for about 4 to 5 minutes till brown on each side.
Now, you can either freeze them or make your tomato sauce.
Mikes Italian Spaghetti Sauce
To those wonderful drippings from the sautéed meatballs, add:
- 2 chopped onions
- 4 cloves chopped garlic
Saute for a couple of minutes just to soften and add:
- 2 cans Organic Tomato Paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
Stir and simmer for a couple of minutes. Then add:
- 4 large cans (28 oz.) Organic Tomato Puree, or crushed tomatoes or a combination
- 4 teaspoons dried oregano
- A handful of fresh chopped basil if you have it
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1-2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tomato puree can of water
Add your cooked meatballs to the sauce, bring to a simmer and cook over very low heat for about 3 hours. If the sauce seems too thick at any point, add a little water. Taste the sauce from time to time and add a bit of salt or sugar. Sometimes it can be too acidic so the sugar really helps. I usually add a couple of tablespoons.
Stir often but very carefully as the meatballs are quite delicate and can easily break apart!
When you can’t wait another minute because it smells so fantastic, cook up some pasta, pour a glass of red wine, add a loaf of crusty Italian bread, a green salad and enjoy!
- Instead of or in addition to the meatballs, brown a pound or two of sliced hot or sweet Italian sausage in olive oil. Remove when it’s brown, make your sauce and add the sausage back in and cook just like you do with the meatballs.
- If you have a Flame Tamer or HEAT Diffuser use it under the pot of sauce in case it starts to stick. It may stick some but it’ll be fine!
- A splash of red wine, maybe 1/2 a cup, really makes this sauce sing!
- This recipe can be easily cut in half or doubled.
- If you make mini-meatballs for an appetizer, use less water. They’re smaller and you want them to hold their shape. I like these a little firmer than the regular size. They’ll still be tender but hold up on a toothpick 🙂
- This freezes quite well.
- Sometimes, I slice up the meatballs and sausage and use it as a layer in my Lasagna with Meatballs and Bechamel. It is unbelievably good especially if you slather a layer of béchamel on the bottom. Oh my.