We don’t eat Italian red sauce very often, and by that I mean maybe once a year. We used to eat it more, but just found things we liked better—lighter sauces, more vegetables, even pizza with white sauce instead of red. Even during the last few years when we were eating a red sauce more often, we had moved away from the thick sauces to ones made with canned crushed tomatoes that didn’t seem to mask over other flavors in the dishes.
That’s what I’m aiming for in this dish that uses up the last of the garden tomatoes. I’m just going to peel, seed, and crush the tomatoes, and then decide when I see the results if it needs any tomato paste for body, and as I always do, I’m going to cook the meatballs in the sauce. I’ve never liked the results of meatballs browned first; I like to just form and drop them into the pot of sauce and let it simmer until it’s all done. That method has produced both flavorful, tender meatballs, and flavorful sauce., as well as a lot fewer pans to wash.
Perhaps you can see in this video of today’s sauce with the meatballs removed the consistency after it has cooked down a bit and had a small can of tomato paste added:
Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs
My red sauce ingredients are always simple and this will be the first time I’ve written them down, so don’t dwell on the proportions of any of the ingredients. Just use amounts that seem right to you. We like a lot of garlic; you might like more herbs. Likewise with the meatballs—I like grated Parmesan in them, and more garlic.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
This big pile of tomatoes, peeled and seeded, crushed with your hands or a potato masher is what I am working with. I don’t have a scale, so can’t tell you how much weight I’m using, but the quantity, crushed, comes half way up in this 6 quart pot. If using canned crushed tomatoes, I would use at least two large 28 oz cans for a single meal for 4-6 people.
The following are the ingredients I used for my quantity of tomatoes:
3 quarts tomatoes, peeled, seeded, crushed by hand or vegetable masher
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6-8 large cloves garlic, chopped or grated (you can see the small chunks of garlic in the video)
1/4 cup dried or 1 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or basil if you prefer)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
Optional: 1 small can tomato paste, added after meatballs are cooked (see below)
Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium heat while making the meatball mix.
1 1/4 lbs ground beef, 80% lean
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4-1/3 cup milk, half and half, or condensed milk—I used half and half, but you could use stock if you don’t like to cook meat with milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
Optional: herbs to match what you use in the sauce
Mix all ingredients by hand as you would for meatloaf. If you use dry breadcrumbs instead of fresh, you might want to let them sit in the milk for a few minutes to soften. Form into meatballs, dropping them into the sauce as you make them. Don’t worry if they come to the top of your sauce and are not covered; they will cook fine that way. Do not stir at this point, so you don’t break up the meatballs. Cover pot and simmer for about a half hour before stirring to allow the meatballs to hold their shape. simmer for another hour, for a total of 1 1/2 hours, covered.
Remove the meatballs and raise the heat from simmer to low. Cook the sauce, uncovered, to desired thickness. Add up to one small can of tomato paste to further thicken or enrich the sauce. I did add one can because the majority of my tomatoes were not plum tomatoes, and thus were a little more watery. Return the meatballs to reheat when you are happy with the sauce consistency. Serve with pasta and more Parmesan for garnish. I used Barilla Plus® angel hair pasta, a pasta with extra protein and fiber. The meatballs are very tender cooked this way. The sauce is not one of those intense, heavy red sauces, but one with a lot of fresh tomato flavor and pieces of tomato. It seems lighter, but that’s probably just me fooling myself.