Italian Meatballs with Red Sauce and Roasted Vegetables

simple tomato sauce with butter and onions

When Tim and I met, we instantly shared this history of having moms who liked cooking because they had moms who liked cooking. We grew up in homes where our families got super jazzed about dinner and would build holidays around what to eat and where. I know there a lot of people like this, probably a lot of the people who read food blogs included, so hi, but I guess there are also a lot of people not like this. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about it, our parallel history of loving food, of being loved by people through food. My Italian grandma died sixteen years ago and was part of the reason I later started this site; Tim’s Italian grandma, a sweet, smiling woman who was also from Chicago, died this last month. It’s such a great thing to have an Italian grandma who makes homemade sauce from the tomatoes in her garden and who always has food on hand that she’ll offer you when you come by. It’s such a great thing, it’s almost trite to talk about it. A grandma or a mom or an aunt or a friend who says, from your earliest memories, that her house is your house and you can come there and feel safe. And while Tim’s grandma, like my grandma, was more than just her cooking, she was at least it, too.

grassfed italian meatballs
grassfed italian meatballs
grassfed italian meatballs from Food Loves Writingitalian-meatballs-5

I’m still shocked we have a kid. Another generation. A new person to grow up eating the foods our grandmas made and to hear about the traditions they carried. Our little Rocco these days is rolling over, grabbing things, cooing like crazy and, sometimes, shrieking with sheer joy that almost takes our breath away and/or knocks me over with a force of emotion that this is our baby, our son, mine and Tim’s. Every day we clean him and feed him and play with him and tuck him in for sleep. Every day we try to keep him safe and warm and Google things about how to care for him well. He’s always changing, always surprising us, always doing something that he never did before. It’s work to take care of him, like it’s work to cook for other people, but it’s a rich work. They both are. The work of daily life that meets real needs like cleaning you when you’re dirty or paying the bills for the water or coming to you when you’re hungry with a plate of something good to eat, all of these are such good, hard, easy, beautiful, difficult, sweet and rewarding parts of life. Over time they become the bulk of our days, the ways we loved each other, the things people remember.

Food is so practical. It’s so necessary, like diapers and tummy time and burp cloths are so necessary, but food is also, at times, extravagant and entertainment and fun you can share with people who share your blood.

grassfed italian meatballs in red sauce
grassfed italian meatballs in red sauce with roasted vegetables
grassfed Italian meatballs with simple sauce and roasted vegetables

I’ve posted a lot of recipes that remind me of my grandma or come from my grandma, and I’ve posted at least one or two that come from Tim’s, and today here’s one more, for meatballs, made the way Tim likes them and now I do, too. They’re adapted from a cookbook Tim’s grandma liked, where she pulled a lot of her secrets so I’m told, but their proportions and cooking method are tweaked according to the way they’ve evolved as he’s made them. Below that is a recipe for super simple tomato sauce only lightly adapted from Marcella Hazan. It’s my favorite go-to sauce. We recommend making the meatballs, adding them to the sauce as it reduces and then serving the whole thing over roasted vegetables or whatever else you like.

Italian Meatballs
Adapted from The New Antoinette Pope School Cookbook
Makes about 20 to 24 large two-inch meatballs

You can serve these meatballs with any sauce you like atop pasta or, what we did, roasted eggplant and zucchini; you can also make the meatballs to use in an Italian soup or in meatball sandwiches. If you don’t want to eat all 20 right away, but you don’t want to halve the recipe, feel free to freeze some, not mixed with sauce, in Ziplock bags.

2 pounds ground beef (we used grass-fed)
1 cup dry breadcrumbs (or, 6 slices very dry golden brown toast, ground in a food processor until fine)
1 cup chopped parsley
4 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 eggs
1 cup grated Pecorino cheese
4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F and set out a rimmed baking sheet.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, using your clean hands to work the mixture together until it’s thoroughly mixed throughout. Form two-inch balls and place on a rimmed baking sheet. You can put the meatballs close together; it won’t hurt them; you don’t need them touching, but they can be friends in there.

Slide baking sheet into oven and cook meatballs for 35 to 45 minutes, until fully cooked through and nicely seared on the bottoms. Let cool slightly before adding to your favorite sauce.

Simple Red Sauce
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

I’ve been obsessed with this sauce since I first made it (a few years ago, I think?). It’s three ingredients plus salt. That’s it. I mean, come on. It’s tomato-y and flavored with onion and great on everything from pizza to green beans to meatballs. Marcella Hazan, A+.

5 to 6 pounds fresh organic tomatoes
15 tablespoons (just a tablespoon shy of 2 sticks) unsalted organic butter
2 onions, peeled and halved
Salt, to taste

Cut out the stems of each tomato and score an x on the bottoms. Bring a big pot of water to boil over medium heat and place tomatoes into the pot for eight seconds at a time, working in batches. Remove tomatoes to plate or cutting board to cool slightly. Remove skins. Chop tomatoes roughly and pile into a large stockpot or saucepan. Add butter and onions. Cook over medium heat until reduced to the texture and consistency you like; I usually give it at least two hours. Salt to taste. Remove the onions and either discard (what Marcella recommends) or let cool and freeze to use in something else later (throw them into a recipe like this one, for example–so good!).

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home,, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

9 thoughts on “Italian Meatballs with Red Sauce and Roasted Vegetables”

  1. Both of my grandmothers were such terrible cooks (wonderful people but really terrible cooks) that I’ve always been envious of anyone who has that traditional Italian grandmother to pass down recipes. Seeing as I don’t, the recipes that you and Tim share here are the next best thing. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss as well – as with your grandmother, it’s clear that Tim’s grandmother will long live on.

    • Thank you, Kathryn. And I also think it’s a pretty great thing when grandchildren of their own accord get into cooking, like you!, so that you’re already beginning a new legacy by which you’ll be remembered. I remember your saying that you got into GF cooking because you wanted to bake for your dad. I love that. I’m sure he loves that. Food is such a great and tangible thing we can offer one another.

  2. My grandma cooks up a large meal for the reunion dinner each chinese new year, and her food is the kind of comfort food nothing else can be. It’s wonderful that you and Tim both share the history of having Italian grandmothers who are proud of their food and the love it brings.

  3. Lucky for people like me, you and Tim had wonderful cooks in your grandmothers and you honor their legacy by writing here for us. So now when I don’t know what to make for dinner, I roll over here and scroll around until something clicks with the ingredients I have on hand. This should be just perfect for tonight. Thanks, friend!

  4. I’ve never tried making meatballs with Pecorino cheese – it came out better than I expected, and the whole family loved it! Thank you!


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