food. family. life.

meatballs in marinara sauce

A favorite ingredient found in my family’s sauce was Mammina’s meatballs. Our family’s sauce and meatballs all tasted different; each aunt, uncle and grandparent added their own unique flavors. Mammina always made her signature meat-based sauce that included beef short ribs, chicken legs, and even soup bones for a great flavor base. The sauce would slowly cook for hours; the meatballs being the last addition until the aroma perfumed our entire home. I remember my Papa Pierino, along with my brothers and I stealing a taste using hunks of Mammina’s bread (pane) dipped directly into the simmering pot.

I have created my meatball recipe and sauce, a marinara version I prefer with no meat (I make a meat-based version in fall and winter for heartier flavor.) The secret to this dish is to buy the best quality brand of canned plum tomatoes you can find to guarantee the best flavor. I cook up a batch of my fresh marinara sauce (recipe below) often and I make plenty of it, to eat right away and to freeze in sealed containers for the meal planning days ahead.

polpette in salsa marinara


1 1/2 lbs. fresh ground chuck beef

1/2 lb. fresh ground pork

1/2 lb. fresh ground veal

3 large eggs (organic)

1 tbsp. or so anchovy paste

3-4 stalks fresh italian leaf parsley

1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh untoasted bread crumbs*

*Make this ingredient using stale rustic-style bread that you break or cut into chunks and pulse a few times in a food processor to create the texture of a fine breadcrumb mixture.

1/2 to 3/4 toasted and seasoned italian breadcrumbs

1/2 cup or so of grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

salt and pepper to taste

whole milk (if needed)

good quality white wine

Purchase your meats at a select butcher in your local area; as with any ingredient, the better and fresher the quality the finer the flavors in the end. Meatballs are a great way to showcase an excellent ground meat and this recipe allows all the flavors to come through beautifully.

Start by combining the ground meats together in a large deep bowl and gently mix them together until well blended (use a light hand so the meat stays loose, not packed down.) Add the eggs and anchovy paste to the mixture; salt and pepper to taste.

TIP: The grated cheese has a salty bite on its own so please go lightly on the added salt, you can always include more at the taste-testing stage.

cucinadimammina_meatballs_1Chop the parsley (leaves only) and add to the mixture. Blend all this with a fork until well combined. Add the fresh breadcrumbs and mix this in well and once this is combined add the toasted breadcrumb and the grated cheese and blend together until combined. At this stage, the meat mixture should start coming together on its own. If the mixture seems too dry or stiff, feel free to add a few drops of whole milk to soften.

Once combined, take a small chuck of the mixture and flatten it out and cook it in a skillet to taste test your seasonings. This is an old trick shared by an Italian women-friend of mine, a favorite tip that allows you to go back to the mixture and add whatever is missing to get it perfect.

When you are satisfied with the seasonings, take a small handful and lightly form into a ball (not too tightly packed); place them into a large non-stick skillet. Drizzle in some olive oil and place on medium heat to brown the meatballs on all sides lightly; lower the heat and add white wine to partly cover the meatballs and place a lid askew on the pan. Cook over low-medium heat until most of the wine is absorbed. Lower the heat and add marinara sauce; enough to reach almost the top of the meatballs (if the sauce is too thick, add water or stock.)

Return this to a medium low heat until you see a slow simmer, place cover with the lid askew. Braise for approximately 15-20 minutes or so and remove from the heat (test the doneness of the meatballs by cutting into the center and check ththey are cooked through.) Serve these immediately with more grated cheese and, if desired, add pasta and green sautéed vegetables as an accompaniment.

salsa marinara (marinara sauce)


fresh garlic cloves

3-6 16 oz. cans of imported san marzano peeled plum tomatoes

I have my favorite brands of San Marzano canned plum tomatoes that I purchase by the case. Look for authentic imported varieties and visit your local favorite Italian market for the best options.

olive oil

fresh basil leaves

In a large bowl, add the canned tomatoes with their liquid and break the large pieces down by hand or, if you prefer a finer texture, pulse them in a food processor for a few seconds. In a large deep stockpot, add a generous amount of olive oil to the bottom and throw in some peeled and chunked garlic cloves on medium low heat. Saute the garlic for a few seconds only; do NOT allow them to brown or burn as this creates an acidic bitter taste in the final sauce.

Add the canned tomatoes and stir to blend in the oil and garlic chunks well. The sauce mixture should be a bit thin and watery at this point. Place the pot on medium high heat and bring to slow boil and stirring often to avoid  burning at the bottom. This needs to simmer for about an hour or so, at a medium low simmer; add salt and pepper to taste. Once the sauce has thickened and the flavors are balanced; remove the garlic pieces and tear up a pile of basil leaves and add to the sauce; mix well and remove from heat to cool. Serve immediately and store for future use.

Buon Appetito!

Note: Photography provided by Annette L. Venditti

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