Meatballs for Italian Gravy
Meatballs the North Jersey Way
These go with my Italian gravy article. If you didn't read it Italian gravy or red gravy is a savory tomato sauce in which meats are slow cooked until tender and fantastic. Start the meatballs after you have the gravy already cooking--they don't need to cook as long as the other meats because you are not really trying to make them fall apart, just cook them until they are tender. For the meatballs you need:
Half a loaf of stale Italian Bread
1/3 pound each ground pork, ground veal, ground beef (these are usually sold together in a package at the supermarkets in NJ--if they don't do that where you live ask your butcher to hook you up. You'll want about 1-1.5 pounds of meat total.)
Heaping tablespoon of fresh Italian parsley (flat leaf parsley) chopped fine
Heaping tablespoon of fresh basil chopped fine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 cloves garlic chopped fine
1 small onion chopped fine
1 shallot chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
1 egg per pound of meat
Salt and pepper to taste--don't forget these.
Put your stale bread in a mixing bowl and pour water over it. Let is soak until it is soft and you can break it into fine pieces. Drain the excess water out of the bowl and spend some time breaking that bread up--you don't want any large chunks. Add everything else to the bowl and mix well. This is best accomplished by using your hands--make sure they are clean. There is no feeling comparable to raw meat, egg, soggy bread etc. mushing through your fingers. Mix everything well. Make sure it's all combined, but don't beat it to death. Now make your meatballs. If you are a perfectionist you can use an ice cream scoop to make them perfect spheres, but I just grab some of the meat mixture and make a nice little ball--just like playing with play-doh in first grade.
Set you meatballs on a plate and heat 1/2 an inch of oil in an iron skillet. I use a mix of olive and canola. Add your meatballs a few at a time. Don't crowd the pan. Brown on all sides, but you don't need to cook them through. As they finish remove them from the oil and add them to the gravy and let them simmer slowly for about an hour. Even if you intend to let your gravy continue to cook don't let the meatballs disintegrate into the gravy--pull them out and set them aside until everything else is finished.
There are lots of variations on this, but this is the basic recipe. The important stuff is to use three kinds of meat--not just beef, and use bread, not prepared breadcrumbs. Store bought bread crumbs will make these into lead sinkers. Make this and you'll never want to eat at The Olive Garden again--trust me.