One of the best aspects of living in New Jersey is that you come across so many people who have "the best” recipe for meatballs, sauce, and other Italian dishes. I’ve had more people come up to me and insist that I have to try their recipe for the best meatballs in the entire universe. They sell me on their recipes that are family recipes that have been passed down for over a hundred years!

They tell me that their Mama’s Mama and her Mama made it while on the boat from Italy coming to America using the only available meat, goat meat. You get the point, everybody has a “best recipe’ and so after years of making and testing and experimenting I think I’ve found my “best recipe” for meatballs and sauce. I hope you agree. Make the sauce first so that it can hang out and let the flavors infuse.

Big Joe’s Homemade Sauce

Like good wine, good sauce or gravy as some of my Brooklyn and Northern Jersey friends call it, needs time and patience.

Ingredients:

3 28oz cans crushed tomatoes (I like Tuturroso brand)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 small can of tomato paste (Italian seasoned is good)
3/4 cup of red wine (I use Chianti or a Merlot or a Pinot Noir)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely diced
9 white button mushrooms, diced
1 small yellow onion (I like Vidalia when in season), diced
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons of basil
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
4 tablespoons of Romano or Parmesan cheese (I like a blend of these two cheeses)
1 large pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (I like a little more)
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Note: I find it almost mandatory to use a wooden spoon and better for your pots!

How to make the sauce:

In a large pot over medium high heat add olive oil. Once oil is warm add onions, mushroom, garlic and salt (salt prevents browning). You don’t want to brown the onions, mushrooms or garlic so add a little salt and cook so onions are a little transparent.

Add oregano, basil, black pepper and saute briefly, mixing in all the spices. Add diced tomatoes stirring constantly, Add tomato paste, mix well and incorporate. Add crushed tomatoes stirring constantly. Add bay leaves, wine, sugar, crushed pepper flakes. Stir mixture slowly and bring mixture to a slow boil.

Once boiling reduce heat to simmer, stirring the sauce every 5-10 minutes at first so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom. I partially cover the pot to let some of the sauce reduce, simmer for 2-3 hours at very low heat, stirring every 20 minutes or so. About 20 minutes before sauce is ready, add cheese and remove bay leaves. Once sauce is ready add the meatballs in the recipe that follows!

Big Joe’s Big Meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef (I use the 85% lean, it works great not too much grease)
1 egg
1 1/2 pieces of dark soft wheat bread with crust
4 teaspoons Italian bread crumbs
3 teaspoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped finely
3 teaspoons of oregano (dried is fine)
1/4 cup Romano/Parmesan blend cheese
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of whole milk
2 dashes of garlic powder
Coarse black pepper and Kosher Salt
Splash of red wine
3 teaspoons of sweet basil
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil

How to make the meatballs:

In a large mixing bowl add bread, milk and wine. Soaking the bread in the milk and wine, making sure bread is totally soaked. Take out of bowl and wring out excess moisture and place back in the bowl. Add ground beef, egg, all but 1 clove of garlic, spices, bread crumbs, cheese. Mix well with hands so that all the ingredients are incorporated. Make a firm large ball, almost meatloaf like.

After meat is mixed shape meatballs into 1 1/2 – 2 inch in diameter. Make them very firm. Take an extra minute or two to really form meatball firmly.

Heat non-stick pan over medium-high heat to get nice and hot before adding olive oil. When oil is hot add meatballs and leftover garlic. Brown (sear) meatballs on all sides, being careful not to burn. Rotate the meatballs evenly and cook approximately 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and put right into sauce. Finish cooking in sauce for 1-2 hours, depending on the simmer of your stove.

Serve over your favorite pasta, or simply as an appetizer with fresh grated Parmesan Cheese and fresh basil.

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