The Saline Courier Weekend

Comfort me with meatballs

- By Lynda Balslev Syndicated Food Columnist Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit Tastefood at Tastefoodb­

If I had to choose a favorite comfort food, I would nominate the meatball. Every cuisine seems to have a version of a meatball, whether it’s a truly meaty meatball packed with ground beef, pork or poultry; a pescataria­n-friendly fish ball or patty; or a vegetarian version jumbled together with beans or legumes. No matter how you roll and cook them, meatballs are dependable dinner-winners. They are unfailingl­y forgiving, pleasing to all ages and adaptive to taste, diet and cuisine. Meatballs are also fun to eat in their myriad forms: skewered on sticks, smothered in sauce, swiped through a dip, or piled in a double-fisted sandwich.

This meatball recipe is a traditiona­l favorite and perfect for a winter day.

The key ingredient is a shower of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, which melts into the meatball, adding salty umami flavor while helping to bind the meat. A kick of crushed red pepper flakes provides a nice bite, which is easily adapted to your taste. This recipe makes a large batch of meatballs, which is hardly a problem. I often combine any leftover meatballs and marinara to make a chunky sauce, then freeze it to have on hand for a future pasta dish or lasagna. It’s a comfort food gift that keeps on giving.

Smothered Italian Meatballs Marinara

Active Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus chilling time

Yield: Makes about 20 meatballs


1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumb­s)

1 cup (packed) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, plus extra for garnish

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Olive oil for pan-frying

Marinara sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian plum tomatoes

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the meatballs:

Combine the meatball ingredient­s in a large bowl. Using your hands, gently mix until the ingredient­s are evenly distribute­d. Shape the meat into 1 1/2-inch balls without overworkin­g the meat. (Wet your hands with cold water from time to time to prevent sticking.) Place the meatballs on a platter and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerat­e for at least 1 hour.

Prepare the sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Stir in the remaining ingredient­s and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Cook the meatballs:

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowdi­ng, and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes, turning as needed. (The meatballs will not be cooked through at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Add the sauce to the skillet and cook briefly over medium heat, stirring up any brown bits in the pan. Add the meatballs to the sauce and turn to coat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and grated cheese.

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