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Meatballs "Il Casale" (polpette di nonna)

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Adapted from Il Casale in Belmont, Mass.


Servings: 8
When simmering the meatballs in the tomato sauce, do not let them boil hard or they will shrivel and toughen. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer - the final temperature should be 160 F (not higher).
Use the best ingredients possible.
1 can (16 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes, peeled if possible
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, halved
6 fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1. Put the tomatoes through a food mill. Discard pith, peel, seeds.
2. Warm olive oil over medium heat in the largest skillet or sauté pan you have (or a long, flameproof casserole that can sit over two burners). Add garlic cloves and fresh basil leaves, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring - do not let the garlic brown.
3. Turn heat up to medium-high, add tomatoes, salt and red pepper, stir, bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.
4. Remove garlic cloves & taste for seasoning.
Meanwhile, prepare the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 1/4 cups unseasoned bread crumbs
1 cup grated pecorino Romano
1 cup whole milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
Handful fresh basil leaves, torn (not chopped)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra pecorino (for serving)
Extra fresh basil, torn (for serving)
1. Rinse the ground meats in a colander under cold running water. It's best to do the two separately. Handling the meat as little as possible, press it and stir it gently against the side of the colander to drain thoroughly. Shake colander up and down a bit. Allow the meats to drain and keep discarding the red juices that collect at the bottom of the bowl. You want the meats to dry but they will still be extremely moist.
2. Beat eggs. Mix with breadcrumbs, pecorino and milk in a bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes so that breadcrumbs soak up the liquid.
3. Place olive oil, fresh basil, garlic, dried oregano, red pepper, and salt in a small pan and heat over medium flame, stirring, for 2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool slightly.
4. Add the garlic mixture the bread crumb mixture and mix together thoroughly with your hands. The aim is to have this as mixed as possible so that when you add the meat you do not have to handle it too much to combine the ingredients.
5. Now add the drained ground meats to the mixture and combine gently with your hands - the aim is to thoroughly combine the ingredients while handling the meat as gently and as little as possible. Some sites recommend doing this with a long two-pronged fork but I found that my fingers worked fine.
6. Form the mixture into 24 balls about 2 1/2 inches each. (The mixture is quite moist - this is normal.)
7. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil. Gently drop in the balls, one at a time. The meatballs should be close together but not touching - if you run out of space, reserve your extra meatballs for another time, or make a second batch of sauce. You may end up with 6-12 extra meatballs.
8. Let the sauce return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, turning the meatballs and stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
9. Towards the end of 15 minutes, start checking the meatballs' internal temperature with a meat thermometer - when they reach 160, they are done.
10. In 6 shallow bowls, spoon some of the tomato sauce. Add meatballs to each one. Garnish with pecorino and fresh basil.
If you have leftover meatballs, or you don't have sufficient sauce, make more sauce and heat the extra meatballs. The meatballs survive very well in the fridge, and you can make an extra batch of sauce and then reheat them in it using steps 7-10 above. If anything, the ratio of sauce to meatballs is very low - this is intentional and how it is served in the restaurant, but you could slightly increase the amount of sauce. It is also a fantastic and very versatile tomato sauce for general application, but of course the flavor is changed and deepened after the meatballs are cooked in it.
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