I have been making my homemade meat sauce with meatballs for the last 3o years, and it remains a family favorite. But recently, my children have been requesting that I make marinara sauce with meatballs as a lighter and healthier alternative. So my challenge was to make sure my meatballs would be just as delicious even though they wouldn’t be cooking in my meat sauce. Well, I did it! My inspiration to develop the recipe came from my daughter Randi, who thought her baby, Noah, would love the meatballs. Randi and her husband Dan have been vegetarians for the last 10 years, but have started eating meat again, but they still don’t want a meat overload. So the perfect compromise is a great marinara sauce with my incredible meatballs. As a bonus to health, I found fabulous organic ground beef at Costco. It comes in vacuum sealed 1 pound packages which can be easily frozen, and easily defrosted. The meat was absolutely beautiful, and had the freshest smell when I opened it. What a find! This is a delicious and economical recipe that you are sure to enjoy. Update 2019: I buy my ground beef at Whole Foods- 85%.
for the meatballs:
3 pounds organic chopped meat (or ground turkey)
3 extra large eggs
about 3/4 cup ketchup
about 3/4 cup plain bread crumbs ( I once substituted about 1/4 cup of organic oats and 2 tablespoons wheat germ for some of the bread crumbs, and the meatballs were just as good as when I use all breadcrumbs.)
kosher salt, garlic powder, and ground pepper to taste
Mix with clean hands gently; do not overmix.
Form into meatballs with a diameter of about 1 1/2 inches.
In a very large nonstick frying pan, put a drop of canola or olive oil. Heat, then put meatballs in over low-medium flame, and brown for just a few minutes over a medium heat. Turn meatballs and then COVER pan. You do not want to really brown them all over, because they can become tough. It is almost as if you are steaming them. Take cover off a few times and turn meatballs. This should be a gentle process. Discard fat as you cook meatballs. When meatballs seem pretty cooked, transfer them with slotted spoon into your pot of marinara sauce being careful to drain as much fat as possible before putting meatballs in sauce. The meatballs don’t have to be fully cooked when they go in the sauce, because they will finish cooking in the sauce. Simmer the meatballs in the marinara sauce over a low heat for at least another hour with cover on over a very low flame. Recipe for marinara sauce is below.
for the marinara sauce:
about 1/3 cup olive oil
4 or 5 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes (Cento)
1 small can tomato paste
6-8 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
2 medium or 1 large onion, chopped very fine (I use the metal blade of the food processor and I pulse the onion until it is the consistency of chunky apple sauce)
kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 tablespoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or dried herbes de provence
1 teaspoon of sugar, if you like
Pour about 1/3 cup of olive oil in a very large saucepan. Add crushed red pepper flakes to taste (I use about 1/2 teaspoon. Then saute the onion till translucent, add the chopped or crushed garlic cloves, and saute with the onion till soft. Add all the tomato product, about 8 – 12 oz. of water if you think the sauce is too thick, about 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and some freshly cracked pepper to taste. Cover and simmer over low flame mixing every 10 or 15 minutes.
After the marinara has been cooking for about 45 minutes, add the meatballs which you have prepared and par-cooked as instructed above. Then simmer meatballs in sauce over lowest flame for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours with cover on.
Add more seasonings as needed. Serve over pasta of your choice. Or you can let the sauce cool and freeze it in quart containers with the meatballs.