I have a lifelong love affair with Spaghetti and Meatballs in Red Sauce. Not only is it a personal favourite, but it’s something my brother constantly asked me to make for him ever since I learned to cook. I cooked spaghetti and meatballs and ragu bolognese so often growing up that my friends started to call me Chef Boyar-Ronny.
Though I do on rare occasion still enjoy the spaghetti with these meatballs in red sauce, I more often serve them with cauliflower puree or some zucchini noodles. I feel much better afterwards and avoid the inevitable post-pasta nap. I also eat them on their own as a mid-day snack or serve them as appetizers at a family gathering. They’re really, really delicious and couldn’t be easier to prepare.
When it comes to classic meatballs in red sauce, I look for two things: taste and texture. I’m happy to say these deliver on both and without any breadcrumbs. There are a couple of secrets I’ve picked up along the way.
First and foremost, the best texture undoubtedly comes from using a mixture of meat. Beef, veal and pork are fantastic. But, for a bit more flavour, I actually love to use lamb, veal and pork.
In addition to the combination of meats, I recommend adding a small amount of baking soda to the mixture. The baking soda acts as tenderizer and results in a much fluffier texture. I picked up this trick from my father-in-law who makes a Romanian version of meatballs in tomato sauce called Chiftelute Marinate (pronounced keef-te-lutse ma-ree-nah-teh). I also like to use almond flour, which acts as a substitute for traditional breadcrumbs. The almond flour absorbs some of the moisture as the meatballs cook in the red sauce.
The meatballs in red sauce do need a bit of time to cook, but good things come to those who wait (even if it’s impatiently). If you think about it, ground meat, particularly beef, is often made from tougher cuts like shoulder. These cuts require longer cooking times to break down the intramuscular fibres in the meat. When the meat is ground, these same rules apply. Sure, you can get away with cooking them for less time, but I strongly recommend cooking them for at least 90 minutes.
As far as the red sauce goes, I keep things very simple. Some extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and good quality crushed tomatoes are all you need. I have to say, I strongly prefer the sauce to be made with tomato passata, which is a stewed and strained tomato product that normally comes in a glass jar. However, these are not as common in the US, where most of my readers are from. So, the recipe lists using tinned, crushed tomatoes instead. If you can find passata, use that. Otherwise, look for a tinned, crushed tomato product that comes in a BPA-free can, since the acid in the tomato can cause plastics to leach.
Try serving the meatballs in red sauce with zucchini noodles or over a bed of cauliflower puree. For bonus points, you can even brown and braise some beef short ribs and Italian sausage alongside the meatballs.
These Meatballs in Red Sauce are Whole30 and Paleo-friendly but you'd never guess it. They're just as delicious as your favorite recipe, but gluten-free!
- 1 pound lean ground beef or lamb
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground veal
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped, plus 4 cloves
- 2 whole eggs
- ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- ¼ cup almond flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic smashed and left whole
- 2 28- fl oz tins crushed tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste
- In a bowl, combine the beef, pork, veal, garlic, eggs, onion, parsley, almond flour, salt, baking soda, & black pepper. Use clean hands to mix until well combined. Lightly wet your hands and form the mixture into equal-size meatballs slightly larger than golf balls (around 2 ounces each).
- In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the meatballs and cook until browned on two sides, 4 minutes per side. Transfer browned meatballs to a bowl and set aside. Repeat to cook the remaining meatballs.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the olive oil and garlic. Gently heat the garlic until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomato and stir through to combine. Return the meatballs, raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid, lower the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 90 minutes.
- Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as required. Serve with zoodles or cauliflower puree.