Oh, if I could only hold my dear grandmother’s hand just one more time… I would make a mold of her palm — the very palm that produced the most perfect-sized meatballs ever made. Of course, questions about secret ingredients and how much pressure she exerted would remain unanswered, but at least one variable would be removed from my quest to replicate the world’s best meatball. Below is all the information we have available. She got the recipe from her mother-in-law from Avellino, in Campania.
Like so many Italian foods in America, especially the ones with southern Italian origins, there is a misconception that meatballs are somehow more American than Italian. We can argue about the correct pasta pairing, the appropriate size of the ball, at what point they should be eaten during the meal, and even about the different potential ingredients, but there is no doubt that a meatball, correctly prepared, is very Italian, albeit southern Italian. There is certainly no doubt that it is universally loved. So please, practice away, teach your kids, and pass down your own little ball of happiness.
Note. My grandmother claimed that the order in which the ingredients are combined is key. And also, you need some patience: fry them slowly over low heat.
Prepare the sauce:
In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden brown. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat, uncovered until reduced – about 1 hour.
For the meatballs:
In a large bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, Parmigiano, parsley, and garlic. Add the beaten eggs and mix. Dip the bread in milk or water, squeeze out most of the liquid and mix it into the egg mixture. When the ingredients are thoroughly combined, add the meat and use your hands to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Take a handful of the meat mixture, shape into a medium sized ball - about 2 ounces, maximum, and repeat until you have used all of the meat mixture. In a large skillet, over medium-low heat, add 1/4 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, place the meatballs in the skillet, with enough room to allow you to easily flip them over. Cook the meatballs, in batches, until brown on all sides - careful not to burn them. Remove them from the skillet and add to the tomato sauce, and cook together, over low heat, for about an hour.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package directions). Drain and place in a serving bowl. Mix in some sauce.
Serve with two meatballs per person and grated Parmigiano.