When I was young, every week’s highlight was Sunday lunch at my grandparents’ house, whom we referred to affectionately as Mimi and Papa. It was always Mimi’s red sauce with meatballs, Botto’s Bakery Italian bread, and a range of pasta from rigatoni to manicotti. Seriously, this was EVERYTHING to me. When I first desired to learn how to cook, I think I was 15; Mimi was the first person I consulted to learn how to replicate this meal. She had taught my mother, which was nice because I didn’t always have to wait for Sunday, but I wanted to create my own version.
As it turned out, she presented an entirely different version than the one she taught my mom, which we realized way after her passing. My version had onions. My mothers didn’t. I was told to bake the meatballs before putting them in the sauce. In contrast, she instructed my mother to sauté them. Lastly, the recipe she presented me with omitted tomato paste, and you probably know the rest.
Anyway, I began honing the method around 18, starting with sautéing the meatballs in butter with onions, transferring the entire contents of the pan into the sauce. It immediately took it up several notches. Mimi would soak the Italian bread in water, and I tried buttermilk – which I did for a while before realizing it wasn’t really making any difference. Eventually, I began incorporating breadcrumbs and parsley, also subbing granulated garlic and adding fresh garlic to the sauce. Lastly, and most importantly, I switched brands of tomatoes from Hunts to Cento and incorporated pork into the mix. Then I started adding miso, which would probably make Mimi roll over in her grave, but you know what? It’s delicious.
This is the current incarnation of what I consider to be the ultimate comfort food. As stated earlier, you can use any pasta you want, whatever you’re in the mood for. You can use it for lasagna, both with bechamel or ricotta. As I state in the episode, the pasta almost kind of gets in the way, and I’m delighted with a bowl of meatballs and sauce alongside a few slices of Italian bread. Also, don’t forget meatball sandwiches, goddamn it!
I really hope you enjoy this.