It's been a really long time since we had Sunday dinners at our house, but one weekend my mom requested we make Lidia Bastianich's sugo and meatballs. We were happy to oblige. Just look at this gorgeous platter of food:
I have to give SP complete credit for this meal. I took care of Baby Girl while he spent the day in the kitchen making the sugo and the meatballs.
My parents brought a loaf of bread for sopping up all the sauce. This is one delicious meal. We couldn't stop eating the meatballs, which are made with sausage.
For dessert I bought two little pies, the first a Reese's peanut butter pie:
... and the second a key lime:
We barely had any room for dessert but I tried a slice of each. Yum!
Long-Cooked Sugo and Meatballs
Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
For the soffritto:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions (3/4 pound), minced in a food processor
3 or 4 plump shallots, minced in a food processor
2 or 3 fat garlic cloves, minced in a food processor (about 2 tablespoons)
1 large carrot, peeled and minced in a food processor (about 1 cup)
2 large stalks celery, minced in a food processor (about 1 cup)
5 or 6 fresh bay leaves
1/4 cup tomato paste
For the sugo:
One 35-ounce can plum tomatoes and juices, passed through a food mill (4 cups)
8 to 12 cups or more hot chicken broth, vegetable broth or hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped from the stem
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes), or to taste
Sausage meatballs: Recipe follows
Frying the soffritto and starting the sugo:
Pour the olive oil into the pan, drop in the onions and shallots and set over medium-high heat. Stir for a minute or two, until the onions begin to sizzle. Drop the garlic into the hot spot and spread it out to caramelize for a minute, then stir with onions. Stir in carrot and celery; drop in the bay leaves and cook the soffritto for another 4 minutes, until it is starting to dry out. Lower heat if necessary to prevent burning.
Push vegetables to the side and drop tomato paste into a hot spot. Toast it for a minute or more, then blend it into the soffritto. Pour in the milled tomatoes and juices and stir. Bring the sauce to a boil quickly and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or more, stirring frequently, until it has just begun to thicken.
Pour in 4 cups of the broth, stir it in. Stir in another quart of broth and bring to a lively boil. Stir in the orange zest, fresh thyme leaves, and up to 1/2 teaspoon of peperonicino, to taste. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a steady but gentle bubbling all over the surface of the sugo. Let it cook for at least an hour or longer, checking the pot every 20 minutes or so. It should be reducing steadily. If it's barely dropping, or not at all, raise the heat and set the cover ajar to speed its concentration. If it's dropping extremely fast, lower the heat to slow evaporation. Add hot broth or water if needed to keep sauce at the level you want.
Have the sugo at a gentle simmer over low heat when the meatballs are fried and ready to go into the saucepan. Have hot broth or water on hand if needed. Drop meatballs in one at a time; fit as many as you can in the bottom of the pan in one one layer, but leave enough space to roll them around. Drop the rest of the meatballs in to make a second layer. Add hot broth or water if necessary so the meatballs are all covered with liquid. Stir gently to mix the broth with the sugo - don't break the meatballs!
Cover the pan and raise the heat slightly to bring the sugo back to a simmer. Set cover ajar and adjust heat to maintain steady simmering (but no threat of burning the meat on the bottom) and cook meatballs 35 to 40 minutes. Turn off heat and let meatballs cool in sugo and absorb more of its flavor (unless you need them right away). When cool, remove them to a big bowl. If the sauce is thin, return to a boil gradually and cook uncovered to thicken. Stir frequently as it thickens; reduce it whatever consistency you like. Taste the sauce during this final cooking, and add salt, if needed, or adjust other seasonings.
Sausage Meatballs with Fresh Fennel and Orange
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced in a food processor
1/3 of a small fennel, minced in a food processor (about 2/3 cup)
2 fat garlic cloves, minced in a food processor
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 pounds sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds)
3 large eggs, well beaten with a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped from the stem
1 heaping cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup or more all-purpose flour
2 cups or more vegetable oil
Salt for sprinkling
Pour olive oil into medium skillet, drop in the minced onion and fennel and set over medium-high heat. Stir them in the pan for a minute or two, until they begin to sizzle; clear a space for garlic and get it sizzling on the side for a minute or so. Sprinkle on half the salt and stir all together. Turn down heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are wilted and slightly dried, but don't let them color at all. Scrape them out of the pan to cool.
Meanwhile, take all the sausage meat out of the casing (if packed in links), crumble it up well and spread it out in a large mixing bowl. Pour beaten eggs on top. Add parsley, remaining salt, pepper, orange zest, thyme leaves, and spread over it all the cooled onions, fennel, garlic and bread crumbs. Now fold, toss and squeeze meat and seasonings together with your hands and fingers to distribute ingredients evenly.
Spread flour about 1/4 inch deep in the center of a baking sheet or large plate. Pour vegetable oil into large, heavy skillet or saute pan (12 inches in diameter if possible) - to a depth of at least 1/3 inch. Scoop up a portion of meat and lightly shape between your palms into 2-inch balls, a bit larger than golf balls. Drop each ball onto floured sheet, roll it around until coated, then place it on another baking sheet. Form and flour all the balls in this manner.
Set the skillet over high heat until oil is very hot. With tongs or a spatula, carefully transfer meatballs to pan, as many as you can, leaving at least an inch between them. Cook for a minute or two, until they've started to brown on the bottom, then turn them continuously until golden-crusted on all sides, about 6 minutes. As they are done, transfer fried balls to a baking sheet. When the meatballs are all on the tray, sprinkle salt lightly over them.
Before frying the next batch, turn off the heat and, with a fine-meshed skimmer or strainer, remove any browned bits from the oil. Add oil if needed to restore the 1/3-inch depth, and heat it up again. When all the meatballs are fried, cook them again with the sugo, following previous instructions.