Meatballs…or polpette?

Likely everyone in America has an opinion on the recipe and/or origin of classic tomato sauce and meatballs, especially if you are of Italian ancestry. Some say this is purely an American recipe that was adapted by early Italian immigrants out of necessity, while others believe it has its roots in the “old country”…and surely no recipe is as good as your mother’s or grandmother’s. Anyhow, I am not of Italian ancestry but grew up eating spaghetti-and-meatballs (made from scratch), and it’s still one of my–and my son’s–favorites. It’s easy to prepare, delicious, and you can make enough meatballs and sauce to freeze for a future meal when you’re in a hurry. We had this for dinner tonight and it was so good I believe I’ll go back for another helping.

Likely you have a recipe for this, but in the event that you don’t I’ve included a basic one below. If you’d like to read an article I wrote on pasta in general some years ago (which was originally published in Artvoice but is still floating on the Internet at AlterNet),  click here.

Ziti with Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

Yield 2-4 servings

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled andminced

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup red wine

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1-1/2 cups tomato purée


Heat the olive oil over medium-highheat in a small sauce pot. Add the onion and sauté untiltranslucent, but not browned. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute.Stir in the sugar, basil, salt, and pepper; sauté another minute.Add the red wine, and allow it to simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in thebroth and tomato purée.Bring the sauce to a slow simmer.


For the meatballs:

8 ounces ground beef

1/2 small onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons grated PecorinoRomano Cheese

1 large egg

1 slice wheat bread, crust removedand torn into small pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon pepper

olive oil for sautéing


Combine all of the ingredients in asmall bowl, and knead them for a minute or two, or until they are ahomogenous mass. Roll the meat into 16 mini meatballs. Heat a fewtablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.Place the meatballs in the hot oil and brown them on all sides.Remove the meatballs from the skillet and transfer them to the sauce.Simmer the meatballs in the sauce for 45 minutes. If the saucebecomes too thick add water or broth until desired consistency.


To complete the dish:

1/2 pound ziti

grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

crushed hot pepper


Cook the ziti in plenty of boilingwater until al dente. Drain the pasta thoroughly, then transfer it toa large bowl. Pour the sauce and meatballs over the pasta; toss untilcombined. Serve while hot with grated cheese and crushed red pepper.

Urban Simplicity.

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