My kids love them. My in-laws are suckers for them. I’m a sucker for them. It’s old school checkered table cloth Italian. But better, if I do say so myself. As with many dishes in the family meal repertoire, over time you come up with some principles that secure deliciousness time time again. So, before we hand out the recipe, let me say up front:
-don’t overwork the meat, so when you mix it up, do it just until it’s all combined and holding together. Don’t pack it like a championship snowball.
-season everything: you want some salt there in the mix. Enough to turn up the volume on everything.
-use more herbs than you think you should. Use more kinds of herbs than you think you should. sage makes it taste like sausage.
-cut the crust off the bread: you want the light structure of bread, not the added density of the crust.
That said, here’s my master recipe:
Old School Meatballs With Tomato Sauce
1 pound ground beef
1 thick slice of bread, crusts cut off, softened with milk, crumbled into biggish pieces (this gives a light structure to the meatballs provided you don’t smash them up too much)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 cup of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme [i’m not kidding] and oregano)
pinch red pepper flakes
1 egg beaten
1 cup parmesan or pecorino romano, grated
salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti
1 can of San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup of all purpose flour on a plate
combine meatballl ingredients in a bowl, mixing with hands, until everything is evenly distributed. Using hands, form into 1 inch spheres, balls, what have you.
Meanwhile, heat a big pan with a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.
Roll balls in flour on a plate, lightly, then place in a hot pan. Brown on all sides (let the meatballs sit there a good spell until trying to move them; if they're not moving, they're not brown)
Open can of tomatoes. Reach inside, and without squirting the tomato sauce everywhere, squish the tomatoes with your hands. Pour over meatballs into pan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer it all up.
Boil water. Cook and drain pasta.
Top with sauce and meatballs. Grate a ton of parm over it all.
(if you've got some crusty bread, toast it up and place in pasta bowls. spoon meatballs and sauce over it all; no need to boil up a whole batch of pasta)