So hey, look, I’m not gonna front: I kinda cook Italian food like Black people do. Specifically, like my mother did when I was little. She’d boil the mess out of a box of spaghetti (in her mind, all the other shapes of pasta were non-existent), form some ground beef, egg and salt and pepper into meatballs and shake a jar of tomato sauce on top of it all and that would be our own little pot of Italy. My Italian meals are slightly more evolved: my meatball recipe included fresh basil and garlic, and some sausage in the mix—perhaps some fresh oregano and parmesean cheese sprinkled on top. But really, nothing special.
It was a decade ago that I realized meatballs could most certainly be elevated beyond the dense mounds of meat I spent a lifetime making and eating. As part of our family’s big farewell dinner just before we moved from New Jersey to Atlanta, my friend Cecelia made us the most delicious meatballs I’d ever tasted—her father’s recipe. It was tender and full of flavor and downright succulent—so incredibly delicious that, 10 years later, I’m still talking about them.
Earlier this week, Cecelia posted a tribute to her father, who would have been celebrating his 95th birthday. In it, she raved about his meatballs—those glorious pieces of meat I’ll never forget. Crazy thing: just as I was reading her post, I looked up at the TV to see Rachel Ray making—you guessed it—her favorite meatball recipe with red wine sauce. Serendipitous. For me, it was a sign that I needed to elevate my meatball making game.
And so I did. With Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun” and “New Amerykah Part One” blasting from the speakers, I tackled Rachel’s recipe with great gusto, alternately salivating and looking a little askance at just how all the ingredients—ricotta, allspice, cumin and fennel, in addition to other things—would come together. Well kids: come together, they did. Big time. Put it this way: I’ll never, ever, make my hard little egg, salt and pepper balls again. This meatball recipe is my new standard. They’re not Cecilia’s meatballs. But they’re damn close.
Ricotta and Parmesan Meatball Recipe with
Home Made Red Wine Tomato Sauce
[adapted from Rachel Ray]
What You’ll Need:
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 1/2 pound ground beef
6 slices prosciutto, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh ricotta, drained
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
A drizzle plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, 2 grated, 2 sliced
1 small onion, grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red dry wine
1/2 cup beef stock
2 cups tomato purée or tomato sauce
handful of fresh basil leaves
How To Make It:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 475°F degrees.
2. In a large bowl, season meat with salt and pepper.
3. Add the ricotta, parsley, 1/4 cup grated cheese, the egg, spices, olive oil, grated garlic and breadcrumbs; mix to combine.
4. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions; divide each portion into thirds and roll each into a large meatball, to make 12 meatballs.
5. Bake on a rimmed nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet until just cooked through and slightly crispy, 16-18 minutes.
Red Wine Tomato Sauce
1. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the sliced garlic and grated onion, season and stir until fragrant, 1 minute. 3. Add the tomato paste; stir one minute more.
4. Add the wine; simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the stock and tomato sauce, then reduce the heat to medium-low; add the meatballs, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Toss in fresh basil. Serve on top of spaghetti with crusty Italian bread and salad. Feeds four.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.