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Meatballs in tomato sauce prepared with red wine

I learned to make meatballs in tomato sauce from my mom and my grandma, the one who had ‘the recipe.’ You know, those family recipes that are passed down through generations, the ones that at some point you make with your eyes closed, always the same, maybe without precise measurements? Those recipes that actually ‘don’t exist’ in the sense that they’re not written or coded but are learned to replicate perfectly through imitation.

At my home, meatballs are made like this. Tradition dictated that on the village feast day, August 13th, the whole family would gather at grandma’s house. After watching the procession, taking a stroll among the lights while listening to the band, we would uncover a huge steaming pot overflowing with meatballs. Then, a competition among cousins would ensue to see who could eat the most.

Over the years, I’ve eaten and made countless meatballs: traditional ones, gourmet versions, by master chefs and Michelin-starred chefs, from restaurants, from delis, from food trucks, Italian and foreign ones… but (no one be offended) none has ever beaten grandma’s meatballs.

I know, everyone says that. The best meatballs are always the ones from home, from childhood, the ones that touch our hearts. Yet, now that I’ve tried so many, I think I can say that this recipe has something that makes them unique. And it’s not just a matter of taste and balance, but also a couple of, in my opinion, winning little secrets that grandma managed to identify by trying and trying again: 1) the bread used must be grated at home, starting with the good bread each of us buys from our trusted bakery; 2) a bit of red wine is needed to provide color, fragrance, and crunchiness, but not in the mixture, mind you. The wine should simply veil the hands shaping the meatballs, remaining only on the outer part.

Well, grandma’s secret worked and still works, and even today, that veil of red wine on the hands is part of my ritual for preparing meatballs. Here’s the video recipe for you.

Ingredients for approximately 50 meatballs (for 5 people):

  • Ground beef: 600 grams

  • Grated bread: variable amount between 150 and 200 grams (depending on how dry the bread is, less if it’s very dry)
  • Grated Parmesan or Grana cheese: 40 grams
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese: 40 grams
  • Whole eggs: 3

  • Chopped parsley: as needed
  • Crushed garlic (or finely chopped): half a clove
  • Salt and pepper: as needed
  • Red wine: about 1 glass
  • Frying oil (sunflower, olive, peanut): about 1 liter

Ingredients for tomato sauce:

  • Hand-crushed peeled tomatoes: 1.5 kg
  • Extra virgin olive oil: as needed
  • Onion: 15 grams
  • Salt and pepper: as needed
  • Basil


Prepare the meatball mixture by combining all the ingredients and mixing with your hands until well blended, achieving a consistency that is neither too soft nor too firm. If it’s too soft, you can add some grated bread; if it’s too firm, add beaten egg gradually.

Pour the wine into a shallow dish and lightly dip the fingers of both hands in it.

Begin shaping meatballs of approximately 25-30 grams, making sure to always have your hands veiled with wine (be careful not to overdo it to avoid making the mixture too wet). If you want to see my simple technique, watch the video at minute 2’50”.

Once all the meatballs are prepared, start frying them in plenty of oil at a temperature of about 160-170°C, making sure to turn them very often, especially in the initial seconds. This helps prevent them from breaking. The meatballs will be cooked when they have a nice amber color, and their crust is lively and firm. This generally takes 4-5 minutes.

Drain the meatballs on absorbent paper.

Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce. Start by veiling a saucepan with a little extra virgin olive oil and sauté the julienned onion over low heat. Add the crushed peeled tomatoes and let them cook for about 20 minutes, allowing excess water to evaporate. At the end of cooking, add basil leaves and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the fried meatballs into the sauce and continue to cook over low heat for another 20-30 minutes. The meatballs will absorb some of the sauce and will be well flavored.

Serve them hot.

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