Meatballs and Sauce

Meatballs and Sauce


My maternal grandmother did not cook from recipes. I never saw her open a cookbook. To my knowledge, she didn’t have any.

The meals she prepared were committed to memory. The cooking that took place inside her small kitchen was a direct result of  what was in her pantry and the fresh fruits and vegetables that were in season.

During the peak of summer, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant would dominate the plates she served. Deliciously-fragrant fruit (plucked fresh off the trees in the backyard) was all one needed for dessert. Soon, summer gave way to autumn and autumn drifted into winter. With less fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables available, it was the pantry that provided the inspiration for family meals. Polpette al Sugo (meatballs and sauce) is one of those meals and we enjoyed it together almost every Sunday for as long as I can remember!



  • 2 pounds stew meat (ground once) or ground beef 80/20
  • 1 pound ground pork,
  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons, Italian parsley, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk (She used canned evaporated milk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil (for frying)


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • water (see note***)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. In a large bowl, combine the two meats (I use my hands).
  2. Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley and garlic. Using your hands, squish the mixture through your fingers (this is the best way to thoroughly combine the ingredients). Mix (squish) in the eggs and milk.
  3. Form a small flat patty out of a bit of the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil in the pan you’re going to fry the meatballs in and cook the patty until brown on one side, flip over and cook until done. This is your tester, my grandmother always did this. Now, you have a patty that is safe (can’t eat raw pork) to taste for seasoning. If you think it could use a bit more salt and/or pepper, add it to now to the bowl.
  4. Form the meat mixture into oval-shaped meatballs (that’s how my grandmother did it. She said they cook more evenly than big round balls). This recipe yields 32.
  5. Fry in batches until brown on both sides, transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. When you have finished browning all of the meatballs, add them to the sauce to finish cooking. Alternatively, you can place the pan of meatballs in a 350* oven, bake for 15 minutes, until done (not pink inside, may vary depending on the size of meatball).
  1. In a large pot, warm the olive oil, brown the onion then add the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes,  careful not to burn the garlic.
  2. Add the tomato paste, stir in the sugar, cook 5 minutes.
  3. ***Using the tomato paste cans, fill each can with water, add to pot. Stir well. Repeat this 2 more times. (You’ll end up using 12 cans of water). Why not simply refill one can 12 times, you might ask?  My grandmother was frugal and this insured we got every last bit of tomato paste out of each can. I  do this every single time I make her meatballs and sauce!
  4. Add the salt and Italian seasoning.Cook (uncovered) on medium heat (low simmer) until sauce has reduced and is thick, abut 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
  6. To serve, ladle sauce in bowls, place meatballs on sauce, top with chopped Italian parsley. If you wish, you could add a bit of grated  cheese to the dish.
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