When my Nonna would make meatballs, I would watch her closely…it wasn’t just the ingredients she used, it was her technique – the way her hands would move quickly, mechanically – mesmerized, I would pay close attention, and I’m glad I did because as an adult, I remember and do my best to replicate that timeless Italian tradition of making meatballs that I learned from ‘the Master.’
My recipe is my own, but strongly inspired and influenced by my Nonna. Typically, I make a huge pot of Traditional Family Tomato Sauce and add the meatballs, as well as sweet and hot Italian sausage, all of which simmers for hours until everyone in the house gathers around with plates and forks and ravenous appetites. The look on their faces lets you know it’s time to MANGIA!
BELLA sent me a 5QT Programmable Slow Cooker and asked, “Are there any Italian specialties that would work well with this product?” I immediately thought ‘sausage and meatballs!!’ I started my sauce in a pot to sweat the garlic and brown the sausage, but rather than simmer in the pot (which requires frequent stirring), I poured into the slow cooker, added the meatballs, closed the lid, and set the timer for five hours. When it was time for lunch, I boiled water for pasta and lunch was served. The rocket blender you see in the picture was perfect to emulsify the whole tomatoes – it’s small, compact, and does the job to create a smooth, velvety marinara.
Polpetti di Nonna (nonna’s meatballs)
1 lb. ground meat (I prefer to use a combination of ½ lb. ground veal and ½ lb. ground pork)
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
2-3 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (optional)
1 garlic clove, minced super-fine
2 tbsp. finely minced onion
1/8 tsp. fine Sicilian salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 glass of water
Add the parsley, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, bread crumbs, and egg to the meat. Mix by hand until well-blended (but again, don’t overwork the meat – makes it tough and our goal is soft, moist meatballs). Roll golf ball sized amounts of the meat mixture – dip the fingertips of one hand into the glass of water and roll the ball between your hands until smooth and round (this gives your meatballs moisture and a rounded, smooth shape). Once all of your meatballs are rolled, set aside. In a large non-stick skillet, pour canola oil half-way up, and heat over medium. When the oil is hot, gently place all of the meatballs into the pan. Fry for a couple of minutes, and then gently turn the meatballs repeatedly until all sides are browned. Continue to fry until meatballs are evenly browned and fully cooked (about 8-10 minutes). Remove from pan and place on a paper towel to remove excess oil. At this point, you have several options. Throw them into your simmering sauce, serve fried ‘as is’ with a side of Sughetto di Pomodoro, or you can also freeze the meatballs, saving them for a rainy day when you need a quick dinner. These freeze nicely and can be stored for up to 2 months. Again, fresh is always best.