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things that happen in june

Recipe: italian meatballs

It snows here in June. It snows, it rains, it thunders, it sun showers, it gets misty.

it’s gorgeous

and we love it

miss kaweah especially loves it

And people get married. It’s like a conspiracy, but June is the time. Take my friend, Kitt, for instance. She got married this weekend. It’s June. I rest my case.

lookin’ good!

the gals get ready

the flower girls share a laugh with kitt’s mom


congratulations, you two!

Since it is wedding season, I could not think of a better time to tell you about the book my friend, Lorna Yee, has written. It would make a fabulous gift for any couples getting married.

the newlywed kitchen

The subtitle is Delicious Meals for Couples Cooking Together, but I’ll tell ya – Jeremy and I don’t really cook together. 17+ years and the formula is as follows: I cook and he does some prep and washes the dishes. I figured the book wasn’t really meant for us (and by us, I mean me), but I was willing to flip through and see what it had to offer. I sat down for what I thought would be fifteen minutes of perusing. It turned into an hour reading the delightful interviews with well-known food couples, including two of my favorite people on the planet, Shauna and Danny. And don’t let me forget the recipes. I have about two dozen pages dog-eared; they all look so fresh and good. But there was one recipe that I just had to try.

start with bread soaked in milk

let’s make meatballs: beef, pork, veal, egg

Italian grandmother meatballs. The recipe looked authentic (I checked it against this meatball recipe from my dear Susan), quick, and easy. Remember, I am a fan of quick and easy right now!

egg, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, flat-leaf parsley

add the parmesan and mix

I grew up knowing absolutely zippo about Italian food. The meatballs I had tasted were dry, bland, unpleasant things. The stuff of cafeterias. I honestly think they were wads of ground beef. I had no idea how amazing the blend of veal, pork, and beef could be. ‘Tis amazing, kids. My only issue with the meatballs was preserving the perfectly spherical shape. I couldn’t. They wound up being multi-sided meatballs, not round meatballs. Anyone else have this problem?

form the meatballs

pan fry on all sides

The one thing that threw me for a bit was the sauce. It calls for crushed tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes are easily found canned. My problem with canned tomatoes is that the cans contain bisphenol A (BPA). Well, lots of cans contain BPA in the linings without much cause for concern, except tomatoes are quite acidic which leaches BPA from the lining into the tomatoes. I don’t want to be ingesting BPA if I can avoid it. I did some searching online and I found a semi-solution.

pomi is bpa-free, unfortunately whole foods could not confirm if their tubed paste was

the way it should be – although i’d prefer organic

I was disappointed when I asked a local Whole Foods if their tomato paste tube contained BPA and they didn’t know. In fact, the fellow I first asked about it didn’t know what BPA was. They told me to just assume it did have BPA. You’d think… nevermind. At least they carried Pomi.

onion, garlic, basil

stirring in the tomatoes and tomato paste

The addition of the basil to the sauce gave it a delightful boost. Jeremy walked into the kitchen as it simmered and you could see his nostrils flare as he inhaled the aromas of the sauce and declared that it smelled amazing. Kaweah was already poised in the middle of the kitchen floor, pointed like a compass needle at the meatballs. That dog!

stir in the garlic and basil

finally: simmer the meatballs in the sauce

I have to admit, I was predisposed to loving this recipe because I was craving meatballs for about a month. However, these meatballs stand on their own merit. They are moist, tender, full of breadth and depth of flavors – nothing like the meatballs of my Southern youth. We took our plates outside and enjoyed the fine evening light as the sun dropped behind the mountains. You really don’t have to be newlyweds to appreciate this lovely book. Everyone can enjoy it. We certainly are!

another great recipe to add to the archives

Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Newlywed Kitchen from Sasquatch Books.

Italian (Grandmother) Meatballs
[print recipe]
reprinted with permission from The Newlywed Kitchen by Lorna Yee and Ali Basye

1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup day-old bread, cubed (crusts removed)
1/3 lb. ground veal
1/3 lb. ground pork
3/4 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/3 cup Parmesan or Pecorino, grated (more for garnish)
3 tbsps parsley, chopped (more for garnish)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 tsps fresh oregano, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil for frying

tomato sauce
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sweet yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. crushed tomatoes (if you want to avoid BPAs, try POMI)
3 tbsps tomato paste
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
kosher salt to taste
black pepper, freshly ground to taste

Make the meatballs: In a small bowl, soak the bread cubes in the milk for a couple of minutes. In a large bowl, combine the soggy cubes, the veal, pork, beef, egg, Parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Mix it together gently and begin forming meatballs about 2-inches in diameter. Try to avoid overmixing the meat or pressing the meatballs too tightly because this will make them tough (and we want tender). Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the meatballs in the pan while giving them enough personal space to develop a lovely deep brown exterior. You will likely have to fry them in two batches and you will most certainly have to turn them to brown on all sides. This should take about 8-10 minutes total (then you plunk them in the tomato sauce for more cooking).

Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the onions and cook for 7-8 minutes until golden brown. Add the garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer and place the meatballs in the pan with the sauce. Let simmer for 25-30 minutes. Serve the meatballs and sauce. Garnish with Parmesan and parsley.

38 nibbles at “things that happen in june”

  1. Memoria says:

    I only use Pomì for my tomato-based sauces. My friend got me hooked on this brand after she told me about the bpa issue, but I like it more because of the flavor. These meatballs look amazing!

  2. Phoo-D says:

    This book looks as lovely as Lorna is in person. Italian meatballs are a marvelous recipe for couples and your final shot is beautiful! I wonder if chilling the meatballs before browning would help them keep their shape? Also, you might check out Eden Organics’ canned tomatoes. I know they use BPA-free lining whenever possible.

  3. Stephanie Schamban says:

    This is the basically the same recipe my Sicilian grandmother taught me when I was 11 (and I still make 20+ yrs later). Of course her recipes all start out the same way…”you get up at 4 o’clock in the morning….” :) As for the flat meatballs…did you find that they plumped up after you cooked them in sauce for a while? If not, try squeezing them into more compact balls. That might help. Oh, and if your Lab is anything like mine..don’t leave the kitchen while making these. Mine jumped up onto the stove and pulled down the entire pot and scarfed it down in seconds flat. And then feigned guilt.

  4. Kristin says:

    Meatballs are on my list for sometime in the next few weeks since She Who Does Not Like Meatballs is at Scholar’s Academy. Yum! Had no clue about the tomatoes. Jeepers…

  5. Nisrine@Dinners and Dreams says:

    Yummy meatballs. I can’t believe you’re still dealing with snow where you are. It must be fun.

  6. farmerpam says:

    Comfort food. Yeah, I can practically smell those babies cooking!

  7. Marisa says:

    With that combination of meats and some lovely parmesan in the mix, how could these be anything but superb?

  8. BG says:

    O.K. silly question of the day (I rarely cook Italian): Can’t we just use fresh tomatoes instead of the crushed canned tomatoes or is there a difference??

  9. Wei-Wei says:

    Hmm… isn’t Whole Foods supposed to be very knowledgeable about all their products? I do like the fact that there’s only one ingredient, though. :)

    Meatballs look great! I’m not craving them right now, though, because I had them a couple days ago ;) My mom made them with cheese wrapped in. Sooooo good :D


  10. Judy says:

    Both the meatballs and the sauce look and sound heavenly. I only learned that bpa was being used in canned tomato products several months ago. Because I know how nasty that chemical is — my recent work project was on toxicology — I’ve been searching for food brands that are bpa-free. Thanks for the heads-up.

  11. Melissa says:

    Ugh. Dang Whole Foods. I feel lucky to have my Italian market nearby. I can find the tomatoes I want there.

    And I have the spherical problem too!

    Also, the photos in this post? They’re marvelous… almost tactile. That’s not quite the word I want, but… it’s like I was making these myself and could feel and smell every part. I especially liked the shot of the cutting board with the garlic. It felt very familiar and real. :)

  12. Jenny says:

    I don’t suppose tomatoes come in where you are till August or september, but this seems like an awesome excuse for you to can your own. Totally worth it, even if you buy the tomatoes.

  13. Jenny says:

    also, I think anything with any sort of super thin pastic coating will have BPAs. The inside of a tetra pak or the inside of a can…. not much of a diff… you can see/ feel this lining, and tomatoes will have a “tinny” taste if it’s not there.

  14. Veggie Belly says:

    What beautiful picture!

  15. Steph says:

    I love spaghetti and meatballs. I am still looking for my “go-to” meatball recipe. I’ll give this one a try. They look fantastic! Great photos!

  16. Georgia Pellegrini says:

    I don’t normally think of meatballs in tomato sauce as “summertime” food, but you’re making me crave it nonetheless.

  17. Jen says:

    I found that if I cook the meatballs in a Chinese wok, instead of a pan, they do come out rounder (just like how grandma made it).

  18. Jess says:

    BG- yes you can use fresh tomatoes but you’ll want to peel and de-seed them before choping them up as the peel and seeds become kind of bitter when you cook them. Peeling’s a cinch if you cut an x at the bottom of the tomato and dip them in a boilt hot water bath for about 30 seconds and then pull them out and put them in ice water. The peel should come right off. From there quarter or half the tomatoes and scoop out of the seeds.

  19. Hope says:

    Does anyone know if Muir Glen is BPA free? The can just says lead free enamel lining, I thought BPA was only in plastics.

  20. Frances says:

    I didn’t know about the BPA thing!!!! Wow I’m really glad I saw this because I use a lot of canned tomatoes….

  21. Lisa says:

    I never served the meatballs in my large parties due to the same reasons that you stated. Last December we gave a large party of 50 people… I added 125 potstickers, 112 pieces of shrimp toasts, and 100 springrolls, all from your recipes in your blog, to my usual party food; and they were big hits. Nothing left before the party was over. The bar tender only got two pieces of shrimp toasts. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful recipes. They are very helpful in organizing a party, large or samll.

  22. Lisa says:

    …….of course, the sugar plums and expresso chocolate chip shortbread are wonderful sweets for the guests. Good additions.

  23. Shannon says:

    Thanks for the info about the BPA in the lining of cans. That’s disturbing to me. Here I was thinking I was being all healthy by buying organic….sigh.

  24. Ruth Ann says:

    Those meatballs look awesome! Yum!

    Here are some links for people to learn more about BPA:
    Article from govt: Bisphenol A
    Another article about BPA exposure as a fetus can increase breast cancer in adult life:

  25. schlachtplatte says:

    Pomi, that name is tooo cute! In Germany, that company sells their chopped tomatoes under the name of Pomito (with the same design), but from now on, I guess I have to scribble it down as Pomi on my shopping list.

  26. Heather @ (The Single Dish) says:

    I am starving right now and all I want are those meatballs!!! I need to make some, looks delicious.

  27. Anne Peters says:

    My daughter and I made these last night and they are heavenly! Flavorful and tender. We had a fresh pot of about 4 gallons of marinara sauce being made for the freezer. We dipped out a few cups of sauce into a separate saucepot and let the meatballs simmer for a while after they were browned off. Yum! We will be making these again and again!

    We made your dumplings a couple of months ago and they were a hit also. Your website it quickly becoming my go-to website for finding recipes. :)

  28. Helene says:

    Pomi is my go-to brand also when our tomatoes have no taste. I am really hoping to can ours this summer. It seems that *all* our neighbors have decided to grow enough tomatoes to save the planet and since we did not….we get their surplus :)

    The stories in the book make me smile and the dessert chapter makes me drool, ehehe!

    Good stuff…Always thrilling to see people we know a bit accomplish their goals like Lorna did.

  29. jenyu says:

    Phoo-D – great thought on the meatballs and thanks for the rec on tomatoes – I’m always looking for that golden fleece: organic canned bpa-free tomatoes :)

    Stephanie – my lab is actually quite a good girl. She doesn’t counter surf. In fact, if you leave food on the floor and tell her to leave it alone, she will! Even after you leave for a few hours. I chalk it up to simple brain more than anything else :)

    Nisrine – we don’t really deal with snow – we embrace it here :)

    BG – yes of course, but canned toms are quite convenient and nice. Using fresh would mean… a lot more time (which I have little of).

    Melissa – YOU are awesome. Plain and simple, babe. xo

    Jenny – August/September are my busiest shooting months. I’d be hard pressed to find time to cook let alone can tomatoes. As for the tetra pak of the Pomi – they state they are BPA-free.

    Georgia – to be honest, I made these back in May when it was still cold out (dipping below freezing at night).

    Jen – nice! If only I owned a wok :(

    Jess – thanks for the tips.

    Hope – the cans are lined in a thin plastic coating. From what I’ve read, Muir Glen does NOT have bpa-free cans :(

    Ruth Ann – thank you for the links!

    Anne – oh wow, that’s terrific. Always happy to hear that others love a recipe as much as I do!

    Helene – I wish we could trade neighbors ;)

  30. Angela says:

    These are almost exactly like my grandmothers meatballs. She’s from Southern Italy. I have friends call me and request just meatballs – no pasta – just meatballs. The only difference is I use breadcrumbs instead of chuncks of bread. So good!

  31. Lorna says:

    Thanks Jen, for photographing and writing about my recipe so beautifully!

    To your readers: I am honored that this recipe looks authentic and traditional. It was exactly what I was hoping to hear. Thanks so much for making my day.

  32. Mrs Ergül says:

    The food looks good.

    The wedding looks good. ( I love the royal blue dresses of the little girls)

    The scenery looks good!

    Everything rocks!

  33. Vesi Leal says:

    Accidentally defrosted a package of beef/veal/pork instead of the ground sirloin – what perfect timing because I wasn’t really in the mood for lasagna…I’m with Steph in that I’m still looking for my go-to meatball recipe…

    Regarding the BPA issue, it was quite the rage a few years ago here in Ontario (Canada) when they started recalling all sorts of products (like baby bottles) but they neglect to mention that so many cans are lined with it. So I decided to try my hand at canning my own tomatoes. Hard – no, time consuming – yes…I can them whole, chopped, crushed, pureed and make my own tomato sauce and salsa too and nothing beats the feeling and taste of opening your own jar.

    Now off to make those meatballs!

  34. Ascend says:

    Congratulations on having this post nominated for Best of the Blogs, 2011! Gorgeous photos.

    I refrigerate the meat mixture for an hour to let flavors marry and let the meat firm up before shaping my meatballs. Then I put them on a tray in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before browning. The center of the meatball will remain firm, even while the fat on the outside melts and the meat browns. The meatballs cook through while simmering in the sauce.

    Using this technique, however, it is important not to have too much fat in the ground pork so the sauce doesn’t get greasy. I’m fortunate to have an Italian butcher who grinds pork about 80% lean instead of the outrageous 60% lean stuff one gets at many supermarkets.

  35. Weekday Dinners That Make Sense and Save Cents | ToDo Together Blog says:

    […] Italian Meatballs from Use Real Butter […]

  36. Clifford says:

    I made these for my wife and daughter tonight. Awesome!

  37. Channy says:

    Hi looks wonderful! I know this is an old post but if I wanted to make this recipe for say 10 people how much sould I double or triple the ingredients? Tia…

  38. jenyu says:

    Channy – I would guess the recipe works for 4-6 people, depending on how much they eat. So if you have big eaters, I would triple. If you have light eaters or kids, then double should work.

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