Sauce recipe

Big Joe’s Meatballs and Tomato Sauce Recipe

17 octobere is National Pasta Day. Every day should be National Pasta Day. So to celebrate, I decided to share my classic meatball recipe and my homemade sauce. I love good pasta so much. In fact, I make frequent trips to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx in Little Italy. I like Borgatti’s Pasta or Teitel Brothers. It depends on the length of the lines but both are very good. Using this pasta with my sauce and meatballs and a good pecorino Romano to finish, you are in heaven. Enjoy National Pasta Day and I hope you will try my meatballs and sauce. Mangia!

One of the best things about life in New Jersey is that you meet so many people who have “the best” recipe for meatballs, gravy, and other Italian dishes. I have had more people who came to see me and insisted that I try their recipe for the best meatballs in the whole universe.They sell me on their recipes which are family recipes that have been passed down for over hundred years !

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They tell me that their mum’s mum and mum did it while they were on the ship from Italy from America using the only meat available, goat meat. You see, everyone has a “best recipe” and so after years of making, testing and experimenting, I think I have found my “best recipe” for meatballs and gravy. I hope you agree. Prepare the sauce first so it can hang around and let the flavors infuse.

Like good wine, good gravy, or gravy, as some of my friends from Brooklyn and North Jersey call it, it takes time and patience.


3 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I like the Tuturroso brand)
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 1/2 small can of tomato paste (Italian seasoning is good)
3/4 cup red wine (I use Chianti or Merlot or Pinot Noir)
4 garlic cloves, crushed or finely diced
9 white button mushrooms, diced
1 small yellow onion (I like Vidalia in season), diced
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons of basil
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
4 tablespoons of romano or parmesan (I like a mixture of these two cheeses)
1 big pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I like it a bit more)
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Note: I find it almost mandatory to use a wooden spoon and better for your pots!

How to make the sauce:

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, mushrooms, garlic and salt (the salt prevents browning). You don’t want to brown the onions, mushrooms or garlic so add a little salt and cook so that the onions are a bit transparent.

Add oregano, basil, black pepper and brown briefly, mixing all the spices. Add the diced tomatoes, stirring constantly, Add the tomato paste, mix well and incorporate. Add the chopped tomatoes, stirring constantly. Add the bay leaves, wine, sugar, crushed pepper flakes. Stir slowly and bring the mixture to a slow boil.

Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, stirring the sauce first every 5 to 10 minutes so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom. I partially cover the pan to let some of the sauce reduce, simmer 2-3 hours over very low heat, stirring every 20 minutes or so. About 20 minutes before the sauce is ready, add the cheese and remove the bay leaves. Once the sauce is ready add the meatballs in the recipe below!


1 lb of ground beef (I use the 85% lean, it works great not too much fat)
1 egg
1 1/2 pieces of soft dark wheat bread with crust
4 teaspoons of Italian breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 teaspoons of oregano (dried is good)
1/4 cup Romano / Parmesan blend cheese
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of whole milk
2 dashes of garlic powder
Coarse black pepper and kosher salt
Splash of red wine
3 teaspoons of sweet basil
3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil

How to make the meatballs:

In a large bowl, add the bread, milk and wine. Dip the bread in the milk and wine, making sure the bread is completely soaked. Remove from bowl and wring out excess moisture and return to bowl. Add the ground beef, egg, all except 1 clove of garlic, spices, breadcrumbs, cheese. Mix well with your hands so that all the ingredients are incorporated. Make a large, firm ball, almost like meatloaf.

Once the meat is mixed, form meatballs 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Make them very firm. Take a minute or two more to really form a meatball firmly.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat to keep it hot before adding the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs and the leftover garlic. Brown (sear) the meatballs on all sides, taking care not to burn them. Rotate the meatballs evenly and cook for about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and put directly into the sauce. Finish cooking in a sauce for 1 to 2 hours, depending on how simmering your pan is.

Serve over your favorite pasta, or simply as an aperitif with grated fresh Parmesan and fresh basil.

The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of Big Joe Henry, host of New Jersey 101.5 Weekend. All opinions expressed are those of Big Joe.

Click here for more Big Joe’s Weekend Recipes

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