While scrolling through what was written on The Tarnished Spoon over the summer, one can notice my fascination for tomatoes – more specifically the ones growing on our deck. The heirloom cherry tomato harvest provided us a tasty addition to many dishes.
Whether at the farmer’s market or walking through the produce section at the grocery store, the Ontario Fruit baskets have been a common sight. I must admit that I’ve been drawn to tomato bushels and baskets. They were beckoning, wanting be to taken home. Without much hesitation, I did with the firm intention of tackling a culinary challenge; hence this tomato-centric post.
Playing with tradition
My Italian roots were showing for this recipe. Pasta and homemade tomato sauce has been a staple at home since as early as I can remember. Over the years, I have been exposed to two recipes mores specifically: my mother’s and my Nonna’s. Both are equally delicious. Since moving out, I’ve made my mother’s meat and vegetable sauce on a regular basis. However, I had never attempted my Nonna’s tomato and meatballs. It felt only natural to step out of my comfort zone and try to make Nonna proud.
I quickly called my grandmother for some insight and wisdom on getting the job done. Over the phone, I was expecting specific herbs and quantities, but ended up getting many words of encouragement and a great deal of approximations.
A couple of snippets of our conversation while discussing the oh-so empirical science of meatballs:
Me: What meat do you use?
Nonna: You can use beef. You can use veal or pork too.
Me: Is there one that is better?
Nonna: No, not really. Use whatever you have at hand!
Me: What else do you put in there?
Nonna: Some garlic, salt, pepper, eggs… about 3, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.
Me: How much breadcrumbs?
Nonna: You’ll see… You’ll know how much you need.
After her instructions, I went directly to the kitchen. Time for some adventures in sauce.
*Disclaimer: all quantities and times are given in Nonna speak in other words, approximate quantities and times
Makes about two to three batches of sauce
- 20 to 25 medium sized tomatoes or more;
- About 3 or 4 cloves of garlic;
- An onion;
- Cayenne pepper (flakes) or whole fresh cayenne pepper;
- Tomato paste;
- Celery stalks;
- Bay leaves.
- Approximately 2 pounds of ground meat (beef, veal, pork… whichever meat you want, essentially);
- Grated parmesan cheese;
- 3 or 4 eggs;
- Breadcrumbs (you’ll know how much!).
- Start off by peeling the skin off the tomatoes by making a “X” incision at the bottom end and plunging the tomato in boiling water for a couple of seconds. Cool tomato in ice water and peel.
- Remove seeds from tomatoes by halving them. All Recipes.com offers a comprehensive step-by-step on how to do this.
- Dice tomatoes, chop up garlic, mix in tomato paste, add cayenne pepper, celery stalks basil, bay leaves salt and pepper and simmer for couple of hours on medium-low heat.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix in the ground meat, garlic, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.
- Mix in the eggs and breadcrumbs to the meat.
- Form meatballs that are about 2 inches in diameter
- Fill the bottom of a skillet with vegetable oil and brown the meatballs for about 5 to 7 minutes
- Plunge the meatballs into the tomato sauce while it keeps simmering.
- Make the sauce and meatballs simmer for anywhere between 2 and 4 hours on low heat while making sure to stir the pot every now and then.
- When ready, remove bay leaves and celery stalks from the sauce
- Serve on the pasta of your choice.
Some final thoughts
I was quite nervous about replicating my Nonna’s recipe, not knowing how it would turn out. I am pleased to say that my adventure in sauce was a success. The sauce tasted and looked great. I was actually quite surprised that it actually tasted just like my grandmother’s recipe. Maybe there is some certainty in approximate family recipes!
How do you go about making tomato sauce?