Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Makes 30 1 1/2 Inch Meatballs
Meatballs in our family are no laughing matter. One set of my father’s Italian grandparents insisted that formed pork meatballs be dropped into a simmering sauce to cook. The other set insisted that the meatballs be fried first and then added to the sauce. My non-Italian mom brought her own refinements to the controversy, making baked mini meatball sandwiches, but she still used only pork meat for her version, never beef. My husband and I are the ones who introduced beef into the mix. Whatever your preference, start with 2 pounds of ground meat for this recipe. What type of meat is up to you: all beef, half beef/half pork, part veal. If spaghetti and meatballs are for dinner, you’d better have made enough for seconds, late-night raids, and leftovers. They freeze beautifully in the sauce. Parmesan cheese can be substituted for the Pecorino Romano, but the Romano brings a more pungent flavor.


  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 slices best-quality bread, crusts removed
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (use 1 teaspoon if Parmesan is substituted for the Romano)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Two 28-ounce cans best-quality whole tomatoes, pulsed with juices in a blender
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)


  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk. Soak the bread in the milk, turning the slices over to absorb it. Cool and mince the bread. Place it in a large bowl. Add the meats, garlic, onion, eggs, cheese, parsley, pepper, and salt. Using clean hands, mix together until completely combined.
  2. Have a rimmed baking sheet or platter ready. Roll into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. (If you periodically run cold water over your hands, the meat won’t stick to them as you roll.) If you have time, chill the raw meatballs to firm them up.
  3. Heat a 14-inch skillet (or two smaller skillets to fry in batches) over high heat. Add the olive oil and when it is very hot, add the meatballs in a single layer. Don’t crowd the pan; work in batches if necessary. Fry the meatballs without moving for a few minutes, then turn as they cook to brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Spoon out any excess oil from the pan, carefully scraping around the meatballs.
  4. Add the tomatoes and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the browned bits. Simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot pasta with 3 meatballs on top, some sauce, the grated cheese, and freshly ground black pepper.
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