My mother always got her meat balls to a uniform size just using her hands. I cheat, using an ice cream scoop.
If you’re using dried currants instead of raisins, soak them in some warm water for about 15 minutes. Trim the crust from the bread and break it into pieces. Put it in a bowl and add enough milk to soak it.
After the bread absorbs the milk and softens, squeeze it to remove the excess milk. Drain the currants if you’re using them. Put the bread, beef, garlic, egg, parsley, cheese and raisins or currants, pinoles and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix it thoroughly with your hands.
Shape the meat balls and fry them in oil a heavy pan. Turn them gently to brown all sides. Remove them from the pan and drain them on paper towels.
You can eat them just like this. We always did when my mother was frying them until she threw us out of the kitchen. More traditionally, serve them with tomato sauce. A simple marinara sauce would be good. I would deglaze the meat ball pan with a little red wine and add it to the sauce. You can either just spoon some of the sauce over the meat balls or simmer them in the sauce for 5 or 10 minutes.
Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as spaghetti sauce. It’s a term of art and means too many different things to different people. Whatever sauce you put on spaghetti is, of course, spaghetti sauce. I think what most people, i.e. those not brought up in an Italian household, mean by spaghetti sauce is tomato sauce that can be used on not just spaghetti but other types of pasta as well. Even that title isn’t specific enough to cover the many variations of the use of tomatoes in the making of pasta sauce. So let’s be a bit more precise and talk about some the various kinds of sauce made with tomatoes.
I’ll start with the most basic – marinara sauce. Not all Italian tomato sauce is marinara sauce. This three ingredient sauce is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. It’s supposed to be fresh and simple so don’t feel something is missing because there are no herbs and spices to sprinkle in. Also it uses just one aromatic, garlic, so no onions.
Marinara sauce has multiple uses: delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat wasn’t an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.
Cut garlic in large pieces so they can easily be avoided or removed. Very lightly brown it in the olive oil. Add one large can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes (or about a pound and a half of cored and chopped fresh tomatoes). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer 1/2 hour on medium heat and it’s done. Maybe simmer a little longer if you’re using fresh tomatoes. It’s so simple and fresh tasting, you should try to keep it simple but if you must, a little cheese
The next step, using the basic marinara sauce above –
For Seafood Sauce – double ingredients. While sauce is simmering add some sliced filet (use something inexpensive like scrod rather than sole) to thicken it and about a teaspoon dried oregano. Ten minutes before it’s done you can add clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops, lobster tails, or any combination.
Another variation for Seafood Sauce – start with marina sauce. Add, in order for cooking time – clams, mussels, shrimp & scallops. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of saffron in a little warm water and add and simmer for a few minutes before serving. No oregano in this version.
Still another variation – Pasta All’Amatriciana Same as the marinara recipe above but start with browning about a ½ lb. of chopped pancetta and use an onion instead of garlic.
One that’s familiar to lots of people is what’s commonly known as Sunday Gravy. I can’t explain why it’s “gravy” and not sauce but that’s just the way it is and I accept that. SUNDAY GRAVEY
This is just the beginning. Tomato sauce variations are almost limitless.
It’s more than acceptable to use canned if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients added to the can.
If you’d like to use fresh here are a few hints -To peel and seed fresh tomatoes,place the tomatoes in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Peel it with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core.
Since we’re talking about pasta sauce, here’re a few things to know about pasta:
Use more water than you’d think you’d need – about 4 quarts for 1 pound of pasta.
Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much), at least 2 tablespoons for 4 quarts of water.
Try to have the pasta shape compliment the sauce.
Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
It’s a good idea to reserve a cup cooking water in case you need to thin the sauce.
Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t use too much or think you can put it on everything because it can overpower a delicate dish. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, trytoasted bread crumbs, especially on seafood sauces. Type of cheese can vary according to the sauce but NEVER, NEVER with sea food.
This is probably a very different version for most of you. It’s a ‘parmigiana’ recipe with just parmesan cheese, no mozzarella. You can substitute other vegetables or chicken or veal cutlets but no mozzarella. If you look up parmigiana, you’ll see it’s defined as “cooked with Parmesan cheese,” not mozzarella. Give our family recipe (written by my sister Nicki) a try.
It’s light and fresh compared to the parmigiana al ‘Americana you get in most restaurants with that thick rubbery layer of mozzarella on top.
2 medium eggplants cut into ½ in. rounds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt and 2 grinds of black pepper
1 ½ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups marinara tomato sauce (see note)
½ cup basil cut chiffonade
Remove 3 or 4 strips of skin from the eggplants but leave enough to hold them together. Slice them into rounds and place the slices into a scolo pasta (colander) in layers, sprinkling kosher salt on each layer. Place a heavy plate and a 28 ounce can of tomatoes (you can use any kind of weight but what could be better than a can of tomatoes?) on top for weight and set the scolo pasta in the sink for about ½ hour.
After the eggplants have drained, squeeze out the excess water and dredge the slices in the flour and salt and pepper mixture. Fry the slices in olive oil until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Coat a baking dish (I prefer a high round dish) with a ladle-full of marinara sauce, then a layer of eggplant and a generous sprinkling of cheese topped with another ladle-full of sauce and some torn basil leaves. Repeat this process until you finish the eggplant. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh basil.
Note: Marinara Sauce– Not all Italian tomato sauce is Marinara sauce. This 3 ingredient sauce (not counting salt and pepper) is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. This sauce has multiple uses: delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat was not an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic (cut in large pieces so they can easily be removed)
1 ½ lbs of fresh tomatoes or 1 28oz con of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
Salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
Lightly brown garlic in the olive oil. Add about a pound and a half of chopped fresh or one large can of crushed tomatoes (approx. 28 oz.). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer ½ hour on medium heat and it’s done.
One last note – I have nothing against mozzarella. I love it fresh and cold, especially on a sandwich with ripe tomatoes and salt and pepper. I just think it’s been overused by cooks in Italian-American restaurants to the point where non-Italians think that’s the way all Italians eat. And it isn’t.