Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Meatballs! Not the Movie

Torrisi Italian specialties got me thinking about meatballs. I'd thought I'd share my special recipe for making Meatballs and Gravy, suitable for a good sandwich.

Years ago my mom introduced me to a basic marinara recipe that she claims was the creation of Tony Danza himself. I've used it about a hundred times since then to great effect. I now indeed understand just who's the boss.

I like this type of cooking because you don't have to be precise, you just throw a bunch of stuff in a pan. Recipe follows....

The Gravy
  1. Get 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4-6 crushed cloves of garlic, and a tablespoon of red pepper flakes frying in a big sauce pan or frying pan on medium heat. Start it all together in the cold pan or you risk burning the garlic. If you burn it throw it out and "Start Again!!", as Billie Idol used to sing. Fry until light brown and fragrant.
  2. Throw a cup of wine in the pan and simmer until alcohol smell goes away. Drink another cup of wine.
  3. Get 2 28 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes. I like Sclafani but if you're in Queens you can go to Sapori D'Ischia and get a monster 7 lb. can of tomatoes there, imported from their Ischia cannery.
  4. Puree the tomatoes in a blender, you might have to do it in two batches. If your blender sucks, then use the Cuisinart.
  5. Put the pureed tomatoes in the frying pan and stir it really good. Once it starts bubbling turn it down to a simmer.
  6. Add about 4 heaping tablespoons of grated parm to the sauce. If you have some old rinds of parm, these work good too but remember to take them out before serving.
  7. Add about 1/2 cups of minced fresh basil or 2 tablespoons dry basil to the sauce.
  8. Let it simmer partially covered while making the meatballs.
The Meatballs
  1. Put enough olive oil in a large cast iron skillet so that it is 3/4 inch deep. Heat on medium high.
  2. Get out a big mixing bowl.
  3. Chop up two slices of white bread and place in a bowl and cover with buttermilk.
  4. Put 1 lb. of ground pork and 1 lb. of ground beef (ground short rib if you can find it) in the mixing bowl. Lean sirloin works fine because the ground pork is fatty.
  5. Put two eggs in the mixing bowl.
  6. Put 1 cup of grated parm in the mixing bowl.
  7. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper. Maybe more if you feel like it.
  8. Add 1 cup of chopped parsley to the mixing bowl.
  9. Add 3 minced garlic cloves to the mixing bowl.
  10. Take the soaked white bread and put in the mixing bowl. Don't add the buttermilk itself.
  11. Mix it up with your hands. If the mixture is too sticky or thin add some Progresso bread crumbs as needed and mix to make it thick and malleable.
  12. Form the balls. I think raquetball size is the best. Don't compress the meatballs too much--use a velvet touch.
  13. Using tongs, place meatballs in hot oil. Don't crowd the balls!
  14. Turn every so often so that outside is an even medium brown.
  15. Put on a paper towel plate to rest.
  16. Once the oil has drained off the meatballs, put in the aforementioned sauce that should be simmering.
  17. The meatballs still need to cook through, so let simmer in the sauce partially covered for a good 30 minutes to an hour, or bake the meatballs by themselves for 20 minutes in 350 degree oven.
Make the sandwich:
  1. Get a good hero roll and slice it open. Heat it up in the oven at 250 degrees for about 5 minutes.
  2. Throw on some meatballs and gravy.
  3. Throw on some good fresh mozzarella and a couple of basil leaves.
Mangia Tutti!


  1. I tried this Tony Danza sauce and used it on both spaghetti and pizza; it is spicy and delicious! I wanted to try it because I typically don't pour wine in my sauces--that is a nice touch. As with most sauces, though, I made 2 improvisations: no parm cheese and I didn't peel the tomatos. I found out earlier this fall that roma and pear tomatoes do not lose their skins very easily after blanching, unlike bigger tomatoes. So I just threw it all in there. I wonder about skinning tomatoes--is it just for aesthetic reasons to make a less chunky sauce, or does the skin offend the connoisseur's tongue? I also wonder about your canned tomato suggestion. The tomatoes in my batch came fresh from the garden. Could canned tomatoes, even those from Italy, match their taste? I can't imagine that being so. But maybe I'd be unable to tell the difference using fresh or canned since garlic equalizes all things. Good recipe, Tony Danza! You are a great man.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Jeremy. Yes, it can be spicy so one can pull pack on the red pepper flakes if feeling meek.

    No question that fresh tomatoes taste better but I've always held the belief that tomatoes off the vine are too good to be used in sauce. As far as blanching goes, I haven't had any problem taking the skin off roma tomatoes. I would imagine that leaving the skin on made for a slightly different tasting sauce that is not as smooth.

    I agree that when making this sauce that we are merely standing on the shoulders of a giant Tony Danza.