One thing I DON'T like all that much is plain red sauce. I have yet to master the art of the red sauce, and I find most jarred sauces to be too sweet or too canned or too.... not right. As such, I also have a bit of distaste for the ubiquitous Italian meatball, which always seems to be paired with red sauce like peanut butter goes with jam.
I've never given the meatball much thought, and yet a few weeks ago I was taken with a recipe from a Cook's Illustrated magazine which I purchased at Costco on a whim. Among other delightful recipes embedded in the pages, it contained one for Sunday Gravy, aka Hearty Italian Meat Sauce. It's rather complicated - involving 3 kinds of meat and the majority of a Sunday afternoon after church. The end result was average (the ribs seemed overcooked and I neglected to add the sweet Italian sausage), but the meatballs - Oh! The Meatballs! - they were a revelation. They'll make you a believer.
Recipe: Cook's Illustrated, October 2009
my notes in italics
2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed & bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (I prefer flat leaf parsley)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork, & veal) (Who can find ground veal, much less all three meats together?? I used 1/2 ground beef - not too lean or your meatballs will be dry - and 1/2 pork sausage)
2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped fine (This is the secret ingredient!)
1 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup) (I used good ol' Kraft Parmesan)
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine bread cubes, buttermilk, parsley, garlic, egg yolk, salt, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl and mash with fork until no bread chunks remain. Add meatloaf mix, prosciutto, and cheese to bread mixture; mix with hands until thoroughly combined. Divide mixture into 12 pieces (this makes rather large meatballs - about the size of a golf ball); roll into balls, transfer to plate, cover with plastic, refrigerate until ready to use.
When sauce is 30 minutes from being done, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add meatballs and cook until well browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly. Transfer browned meatballs to sauce and gently submerge. Cover and continue cooking until meatballs are just cooked through, about 15 minutes.
The secret really is the prosciutto. The flavor it adds is delightful: a little salty, a little smoky. The meatballs are large so I serve no more than 2 per person, and I froze the leftovers. Just defrost and pop them into sauce on the stove to warm up in about 10-15 minutes.