I have really mixed feelings about posting this because there’s an unspoken code in my family regarding recipes. Basically, you never tell anyone the whole truth when it comes to cooking because the best meals are improvised and you couldn’t tell it on paper anyway. You have to adjust on the fly, using your senses—your eyes, your nose, your experience, and most importantly your mouth. If it looks and tastes fucked up then it is fucked up. Basically, if you don’t know what good food tastes like, you will be throwing darts when you try and cook. This recipe is for your basic “Sunday sauce”, it takes a whole Sunday afternoon to cook it. I’m a proud Italian-American and if I ate macaroni and meatballs 3 times a week I would die fat and happy, but satisfied. When given the choice I will always eat Italian food before anything else. My good friend Mickey Melchiondo says it the best, “the French talk about food but the Italians know how to eat.” If you’ve ever been to Italy then you know what I’m talkin’ about. Italian/American cooking is it’s own thing, different than the food in Italy, but I’m a bastard and I can only tell you what I grew up with. I come from a large Italian family in New Jersey and they all claim that I make the best macaroni and meatballs and I’m gonna show you how to do it right here. This was taught to me by all my relatives but I’ve added my own tasters along the way; I’ve cooked this meal one hundred times for my family and it’s always what I crave when I’m truly hungry. This is a step by step pictorial guide that I made on 12/16/07 for my wife, son, and parents. I cook for my folks and my sisters once a month and it’s the most rewarding thing in the world. All the little things I mention here are important for a successful meal, the difference between a great dinner and a passable one, so don’t skip the little shit in this tutorial and it will reward you in the end.
Pasta is pasta right? WRONG! I like spaghetti and clams. I don’t eat spaghetti with meatballs. I like tortellini Bolognese but I like Rigatoni with Carbonara sauce. Marinara sauce is something that I’ll only eat on mussels. I like fusili with garlic and oil. There’s a reason that pasta comes in so many shapes, and it’s not to accommodate your fork or for your kid to play with. When it comes to the most standard meal (pasta and meatballs) I will only eat macaroni. That’s penne rigate or rigatoni by my definition. If I cook spaghetti it’s usually with shredded chicken or seafood or (my fave of all) white clam sauce. This is about my regular family Sunday meal though, which from heretofore-unce on will be called macaroni with meatballs. Pencil points we call them.
Time is a bitch, it’s really true. You can’t make this meal in less than 4 hours. If you do it enough you will learn how to force it in 3 hours, but no less. If you try and tell lies or rush this then it won’t taste as good. Good food takes time, and it’s not just a cliché. Relax and enjoy the experience, get drunk on wine while you’re cooking—it’s acceptable when you cook this.
I’m already tired of typing this. You’re gonna fuck this up anyway. You have to go to the supermarket and buy the following:
(this recipe is designed for 7 people so adjust accordingly, freeze the sauce and meatballs you don’t eat for another day)
4 lbs of ground beef/veal/pork (if you’re lucky enough to have a butcher in your hometown have him grind it from cutlets, if not then buy it in the plastic packs)
some pork chops (bone in)
2 lbs. of penne rigate
1 gigantic yellow onion
1 head of garlic
1 fresh batch of basil
1 batch Fresh parsley
1 long ring of hot Italian sausage
4 slices of bread (I use any kind of white bread)
pecorino/romano cheese (don’t skip on this one, buy the best cheese you can get and either grate it or spend extra for the good shit already grated)
extra virgin olive oil
dry white wine (I just use holland house cooking wine, available anywhere)
3 big (29 oz.) cans of tomato sauce (depending on what texture you like—I like regular, already pureed sauce for this recipe)
4 bottles of wine.
A loaf of fresh Italian bread, and get some butter too.
Alright. You have a big pile of groceries on the counter. It’s 1pm and dinner is at 6. Relax. Pour yourself a glass of red wine and commence drinking. Sharpen your knife, the big one. Dice the big onion into bits. Take 5 cloves of the garlic and dice that too. Chop the basil up, all of it. Put the beef/v/p/ into a big ass bowl and add salt, pepper, a little bit of oregano, ½ cup of the cheese, and one raw egg. Take 4 slices of the white bread and put it into a cereal bowl and fill it with milk. This is key. Bread crumbs are bullshit in meatballs, this is our substitute. This is what will make your meatballs excellent. Sautee ½ of your onion, ½ of your garlic, and one half of the basil in 2 tblsps of oil in a big pan, slowly. I mean really slowly. If you burn the garlic right here then all is lost. Throw the whole meal away and start over. You won’t fool anyone if you burn the garlic. Burnt garlic will be the only thing anyone tastes. Be cautious and go slow and low, medium low heat. When the onions are translucent then it’s ready, it might take 15 minutes but wait it out. When the onion/garlic/basil mix is finished sautéing, then dump it on the bowl of meat. Squeeze out the milk bread and put the wrung-out milk bread into the meat bowl too. Squeeze the milk bread gently so it relinquishes half of the absorbed milk. Go easy. This is what it’ll look like out of focus:
Now it’s time to get messy. Grind this shit together through your fingers. Mix and mash it up it up for 5 minutes, kneading it. Make sure that everything is blended together evenly. When it’s all done it will look something like this hopefully:
Now just wash your hands and set this bowl aside for the moment.
The Sauce (gravy, whatever)
Add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large spaghetti pot and sautee the rest of your onions, garlic and basil, again, slow and low. Do not burn the garlic. When the onions are translucent, add the three cans of tomato sauce. For every can that you pour in the pot, go to the sink and fill up half the can with water and dump it in the pot, rinsing out the remaining sauce still in the can. This water is going to cook off over the next 3 hours as you will see. Remember that, 3 cans of tomato sauce, 1 ½ cans of water. Now sprinkle some oregano on the pot of sauce, and add a tablespoon of sugar, stir it a little, and simmer the sauce on medium low heat.
Ok here we go. I like to brown my meatballs before putting them in the sauce, it greatly helps the texture and flavor of the end product, but it’s more time consuming and messy, but totally worth it. Pour an inch of oil in the bottom of your pan and turn the burner to medium high. Get that oil scorching hot. Shape the meatballs in your hand to whatever size you like, I like larger meatballs. Add them to the scorching hot pan, try and not let them touch one another. If the oil is hot they should brown on each side quickly. We are not trying to cook them here, it’s okay if they’re still undercooked in the middle, they will be cooking in the sauce for three hours. When each side is browned, remove the meatballs to some paper towels and add the next batch to your pan. I usually have to do this 4 times, 4 batches of meatballs. When you’re done, add your browned meatballs to the sauce.
I always throw a couple of (bone in) pork chops in my Sunday sauce, they add a ton of flavor and they completely fall apart while cooking in the tomato sauce. Anyway, using the same oil you used for the meatballs, brown your pork chops, remove them from the pan and pat some of the oil off with a paper towel and then add them to the tomato sauce too. After this, cook the sausage and repeat the previous, add the sausage into the sauce.
My father loves hot Italian sausage so I usually add a few pieces in there for him too. It too helps the flavor of the sauce.
Deglazing the pan
By now the bottom of your pan is filled with little bits of meatball, pork chop, sausage, onions, etc. put the empty oily pan back onto medium high heat and pour in some wine, enough to cover the bottom and then a little more. Smoke will come billowing out and all of the pieces that were stuck to the bottom will come off. Simmer this for a couple of minutes until the alcohol cooks off, you will be able to smell this. Now pour the brownish wine gravy into your sauce and stir it in.
This is after 2 and a half hours of simmering, the pork chop has completely fallen off the bone and dinner is almost ready.
The hard work is now over. You are going to let your sauce simmer on low heat for the next three hours. Clean up the mess that you’ve created and get ready for the final phase. Over the next three hours your sauce is going to relinquish a lot of fat and oil, like tons of it. There is a lot of debate over this in my family, I personally skim 90 percent of it off. It is a constant job. Some people believe in stirring it back in for flavor. You will see what I mean. Like I said, I leave some and stir it back in, but not a whole lot.
This is what it will look like. Get the table ready and put out the wine and whatever else your guests like. We tend to eat simple, but tasteful meals. I usually put out a bunch of fruit and berries and olives and cheese.
Cook your pasta until it is al-dente, about 11 or 12 minutes. When it’s finished, drain it in a colander and then transfer it to a big serving plate. A large plate is better than a bowl for this. Grab a fistful of cheese and cover the pasta with it and then toss it a little, this will help the sauce adhere to the pasta. Now start spooning the tomato sauce over the pasta, stirring it in, covering the pasta. Don’t put too much sauce on it yet, let your guests decide how much they want, I just cover it enough to use as a starting point.
I like to put some meat around the outer ring of the serving plate, but take the whole pot of sauce and meat and put that on the table too. Let people decide how much sauce they like and let them hand pick what meatballs, sausage, pork they want. Last but not least, sprinkle the dish with parsley and a little more cheese for presentation. You made it.
Mickey’s mom and dad throwing down.
My beautiful girlfriend, Lindsey.