When we moved to our house 25 years ago, we started a garden the first spring we lived there and every year after that for about 10 years. However, as the kids got older and began to become involved in spring sports, we stopped planting a garden because we didn’t have the time. About five, maybe six years ago, we started planting one again. The kids were older, had an interest, and enjoyed helping us. That said, every year since we started gardening again, my husband bought far too many tomato plants, so we had a ton of tomatoes. As a result, beginning annually in August I made my Nana’s spaghetti sauce in gallons. Two years ago I didn’t because I was recovering from a craniotomy, but all the other years I did.
In years past, usually around Labor Day weekend, Jeff and I had a “sauce-off.” We each made a batch of sauce, because we have that many tomatoes, and then invited friends over to pick a winner. Last year, Jeff won. Two years before that, I won. This year would be the rubber match, so I’ll let you know if we decide to have our sauce-off. We may not do it though because we kept Jeff under control this year and only let him plant six tomato plants. Last year we ate so much sauce, Maddy had non-stop canker sores in her mouth until Thanksgiving.
Anyway, for those who would like to try and make my sauce and meatballs, I will try to give you the recipe here. My sister Lynda taught me how to make both the sauce and meatballs eons ago and neither of us wrote it down; it’s just in our heads. But, here you go.
Ahead of time you will need to buy three pounds of beef, pork, or whatever meat you’d like to make meatballs with. Two cans of seasoned tomato sauce, (I always use canned sauce to fortify my recipe), one small can of tomato paste, one large sweet onion, one large white onion, green pepper, orange and/or red pepper, fresh basil, and any other seasoning I mention that you don’t have.
To remove the skins, I take the stems off with my little Pampered Chef tomato corer, then I boil them in small batches in a small sauce pan for about two minutes. Usually, I’ll see the skins lifting from the top of the fruit where the stem was, and then I take them from the water. I put them in a colander in the sink and keep the process going until they’re all ready to peel. Keep the tomato water; you’ll need it later.
Before I begin taking off the skins, I’ll dice up the peppers, onions, and basil and have them waiting. When I began the small pot of water boiling for the tomato skins, in the large pot for the sauce I drop half the fresh cut basil, peppers, onions, and begin to sweat them; I add some olive oil to this and keep sautéing it on medium while I’m skinning the tomatoes. The mixture should gently cook.
When the mix in the sauce pot is ready, the onions will be translucent, I add the two 16oz cans of tomato sauce, the can of paste, and season with half of the remaining fresh chopped basil, onions, and green peppers. I also add, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, and Italian seasoning. Stir. Then I peel, seed, and chop my tomatoes. The seeds come out of the Roma tomatoes pretty easy. I just cut them the long way, scoop out the seeds, trying to leave the center meat.
If I have Big Girl or smaller beefsteak type tomatoes, I’ll quarter them and scoop out the seeds with my fingers. Sometimes, I’ll run them under some cool water from the tap if I have a bigger tomato and there are lots of seeds.
After everyone is in the saucy pool simmering, I’ll add three teaspoons of sugar, this helps to offset the acidity and sweeten a bit, and then I begin to make my meatballs. At this point, I keep the sauce on medium heat to keep on a high simmer to cook the tomatoes, so you need to keep stirring while you make the meatballs. I’ve never made the meatballs in advance, but to keep you from having to stir and make meatballs, you could prepare them ahead of time. I always think of this when I am knee deep in meatballs, turning back and forth from the stove. It’s your call on how you do this. I just have my process down to a science after all these years, so I sauce first and meatball second.
For the meatballs, I take 3lbs of 85% beef. You can use whatever you’d like. I’ve seen recipes with pork or a combination of both. If you use turkey or chicken, you should season heavily because without the fat, they will be lacking in flavor.
Into the bowl I put the meat, remaining chopped fresh basil, peppers, and onions. I season with onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and about a teaspoon of steak seasoning. I like this flavor but if you put too much steak seasoning, it will overwhelm the other flavors, so use sparingly. Then I add two eggs and about a cup of seasoned bread crumbs. I think it’s a cup, I just sprinkle it in and hope for the best. Then I take a Ziplock bag and put in on my hand to mash the mixture together. You can skip the bag if you don’t mind getting your hand dirty, but I do. I hate the meat under my nails.
After it’s all good and mixed, I scoop up some meat in my hands to form balls. I do take the bag off my hand, otherwise it’s really hard to form them properly. To cook them, I boil them in the water I boiled the tomatoes in. Yes, I said boil. I don’t like my meatballs with a crunch, so I don’t cook them in the over, and I don’t like putting raw meat in my sauce, so I boil them first. My Nana did, and so I do too. Also, the boiling removes some of the fat and firms them up before they go in the sauce bath.
Boil them in batches of six to eight, depending on the size of your water pot, for about two minutes. Scoop them out one to two at a time with a slotted spoon and put then gently into the sauce. Repeat until all the meatballs are swimming together in the sauce.
Let the sauce boil on medium for about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, move it to your simmer burner and let it cook for about three to four hours. It will thicken as you cook. Stir every 30 to 40 minutes. Some of the meatballs may fall apart. It’s all good if that happens. It just enhances the flavor.
You can make meatball subs and dip the bread in the sauce. I like to just have straight-up spaghetti with mine. I love angel hair, but they don’t make it gluten free, so I have spaghetti. If we have subs, and there is sauce left, I’ll freeze the left-over. It’s good for about six months in the freezer.
Sorry, I can’t give you precise measurements or how many tomatoes to use because I always use what I have on hand. If I use more tomatoes, I have a bigger sauce and season more. To get the flavor you want, just keep tasting; it’s what I do. Good luck, and you can always message me with questions.