There's nothing better than a good meatball, and as far as I'm concerned, nothing harder to find.
My grandmother, Grace Lombardi, made a terrific meatball, and my Aunt Francie's were pretty darn good too. If I had to say those were my two favorites, then they only edged my mother out by the tiniest margin. (Sorry Mom!)
That being said, I've never met anyone who makes a meatball that comes even close to my mom's, my aunt's or my grandmother's. That is, until I met Emeril Lagasse.
I was lucky to be invited to the media lunch when Emeril opened his Italian Table at The Sands in Bethlehem. Meatballs (the size of softballs!) were served on a bed of creamy polenta as the main course.
They were wonderful. Not only did they taste good, the texture dense and firm was perfect. With everything else they gave us to sample that day, I could barely eat one meatball, let alone two.
The waitress was kind enough to offer a container so that I could take it home, and while that is not usually the professional protocol at such an event, I wasn't leaving that meatball behind. (I wasn't the only journalist to walk out with a doggy bag, either.)
As the luncheon wound down, I stashed the lone meatball in my purse, gathered my belongings and headed for the door, when lo and behold, who was there to bid me farewell, but the famous chef himself.
He stopped me and asked if I enjoyed the food. I assured him that I did and I told him about my lifelong search for the perfect meatball, and that his came pretty darn close.
"They're almost as good as my Italian grandmother's," I told him. "In fact," I leaned in and whispered, "I have one in my purse for my husband to try."
He laughed, put his arm around me and said, "I love it!"
Today I'm going to share my mother's recipe for meatballs. I'm the first to admit, mine don't taste as good as hers, and other than Grandma, Aunt Francie, Emeril, and my mom of course, they are still pretty darn good.
My mother was the type of cook who did almost everything to taste. She may have added a pinch or two of something that I never wrote down. Either that, or I'm just not putting enough love into them. I'll have to work on that.
I'm also including my mother's recipe for the sauce she always used on her homemade pizza. It's just about one of my favorites.
It's simple to make and can substitute any time you need tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce. I always use this recipe when I make homemade manicotti (find that recipe at http://www.tnonline.com/2013/mar/20/mangia-manicotti ).
As this sauce simmers away on the stove, it's one of those dishes that I can't walk past without grabbing a spoon and having just a little taste.
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
Water, as needed
Mix above ingredients, except for water, until well blended. If you need more liquid, use water, starting with quarter cup. Do not use milk. Do not use more than 1 egg per pound of meat. Also, overmixing will toughen meatballs. When combined, roll into 2-inch balls and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven until brown and firm; about 40 minutes.
Mommom's Pizza Sauce
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 28-ounce can pureed tomatoes
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon baking soda, if needed.
Cover bottom of large sauce pay with oil and heat; add half of the chopped garlic. Do not brown! Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients, except remaining garlic and baking soda. After the sauce begins to simmer, add remaining garlic. You may need to add more garlic or other seasonings to taste. Return to a simmer and add baking, quarter teaspoon at a time, if the sauce tastes too bitter. Stir until bubbles and foam are gone. Simmer on low.
If using with the meatballs, add meatballs to the sauce and heat through.
I usually double or triple this recipe and then freeze the rest in small batches for weeknight meals.