MEATBALLS in Tomato Sauce


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MEATBALLS in Tomato Sauce---YUM!
       When I lived in NJ, I stupidly let an opportunity slip through my fingers. My relatives grew up with an Italian family that ran a pizza place for over 100 years in Perth Amboy. They were still using their original wood burning brick oven and their family's original recipes. Sciortino's pies were some of the best I'd ever tasted. And their spaghetti and meatballs were to die for. Even though they were "secret recipes," I was in the kitchen at least once a week, back by the oven, and could have very easily learned how they made their homemade sauce, their meatballs and their sausage. But did I? No. I STILL KICK MYSELF over THAT ONE!
       Here's why. One day the town fathers, who didn't get along very well with this long time Perth Amboy family, literally decided to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot!" This Century Old Institution was KNOCKED DOWN, oven and all, to add 20 more unnecessary parking spaces to a hospital lot. How could they? My Italian recipes were paved over forever.
       So I've been trying to find a recipe that comes close to my lost meatballs and sauce for a really, really long time. I can still taste them. They were tender, but not mushy with a combination of meats that were seasoned with just enough onion, parmesan and parsley. And then they were all smothered in a rich, sweet tomatoey sauce. It was grandma in one bite. I tried Rao's and Rachel's , Marcella's, Mario's, and Lydia's-- just to name a few. But nothing came close to my Sciortino's-- where are my meatballs??
       While flipping through a recent Food and Wine magazine, I stumbled across Mr. Meatball himself, Daniel Holzman, owner of NYC's Meatball Shop. His flavorful meatballs were the closest I'd ever tasted, like eating my next door neighbor's version. It seems that all this time, I had thought that my beloved meatballs were fried, just like all of the other recipes I tried. But his are simply rolled into balls, dropped in the sauce, and HERE"S THE KEY, braised in an hot oven. That was the step that made all the difference! And, with a few of my own tweaks, I was finally home! Now they were exactly the way I remembered them.

LESSONS Learned:
1. A lot of recipes use a combination of beef, pork, and veal, for flavor, fat and tenderness. I have an organic, grass-fed butcher shop up here in Kingston, NY, Fleischers, and they don't sell veal. So I got their Bork--half ground beef and half ground pork. I think I like it better--the veal might make them too tender. But you could substitute the classic meatloaf mix, beef, pork and veal.
2. I like to combine all of the meatball ingredients except the ground meats first. That way I know all of the flavors will be evenly distributed throughout the meat.
3. Buy the tomato paste in a tube for the sauce. You only need a few tablespoons, and you won't waste a whole can.
4. For evenly sized meatballs, use an ice cream scoop to portion out the meatballs. And then hand roll them.
5. If you have a chance to get a recipe for something delicious, Grab IT!

(adapted from Daniel Holzman's Meatball Shop)

The Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1 cup medium diced onion
3/4 cup small diced carrot
4 cloves garlic minced
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch red pepper flakes
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes ( San Marzano, or Muir Glen)
2-4 Tablespoons honey (optional)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt or to taste

Make the sauce:
       In a large oven-proof saucepan or Dutch oven heat the olive oil. Add the onions, and carrots. Cook until the onions are softened and translucent, about 8 minutes.
       Stir in the garlic and the tomato paste, and cook about 3 minutes until the paste is lightly caramelized.
       Add the bay leaf, oregano, tomatoes, and the red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Add the honey, if desired, and salt to taste, and keep at a low simmer while making the meatballs.

The Meatball Ingredients:
1/4 cup Italian style dry bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 Tablespoons water
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork

While the sauce is cooking, make the meatballs:
       Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium size bowl combine all of the ingredients except the meats. Add the meats and mix with your hands or a fork until well combined. Using a 1 1/2 inch wide ice cream scoop, so they're all the same size, scoop out 20 meatballs, hand-rolling to make them round.
       Add the meatballs to the sauce, and gently spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs. Bring to a boil, cover the pot and place in the preheated oven. Braise for 30-35 minutes, until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Discard the bay leaf. Serve with extra grated parmesan.

Makes 4-6 servings. YUM!!
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