Found on page 139 of my Ranch Raised Cookbook!
Photography by Charity Burggraaf
Roasting fresh tomatoes intensifies their flavor, so this sauce is still a winner even if you don’t have straight-from-the-vine summer tomatoes. Though if you do, this is an excellent recipe for using up that bounty – especially the tomatoes that are overripe or starting to turn. When I have way more than I know what to do with, I like to make a double batch of this sauce and freeze the extra. The balsamic vinegar amps up the umami flavor, and the roasted garlic adds a sweet, silky undertone. I think these saucy meatballs are delicious over a big pile of garlicky sautéed greens, but Brian and the girls always want spaghetti. We usually compromise and have both!
Makes 6 servings.
For the Tomato Sauce
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 6 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, plus more if needed
For the Meatballs
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground beef, preferably chuck or sirloin
- 1 cup (about 8 oz.) ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Chopped fresh basil leaves for garnish
To make the tomato sauce, position two oven racks evenly in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Brush two large rimmed baking sheets with olive oil. Spread the tomatoes in an even layer, dividing them evenly among the baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt. Place the garlic cloves in the center of one of the baking sheets. Cook until the tomatoes are fragrant and starting to brown, rotating the baking sheets once or twice, about 40 minutes. Check the tomatoes every so often to make sure they aren’t burning; if they start to brown too quickly, rotate them on the sheet.
When cool enough to handle, squeeze the softened garlic out of their skins (discard the skins) into a blender. In batches, transfer the tomatoes to the blender and blend until smooth. (If you like, push the tomatoes through a mesh sieve to remove the skin and seeds first; alternatively, run them through a food mill). Pour the sauce into a large saucepan and stir in the balsamic. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more balsamic and salt, then set aside. The sauce can be cooled completely and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
To make the meatballs, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Brush a clean rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. In a large bowl add the pork, beef, ricotta, Parmesan, onion, egg, Italian seasoning, ground fennel, salt, and pepper. Mix gently with your hands until combined. Shape into meatballs, each about 2 inches in diameter. You should have about 28 meatballs. Space the meatballs evenly on the baking sheet and bake until cooked through and well browned on one side, about 20 minutes.
Using a silicone spatula, loosen the meatballs from the pan and add them to the sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes, gently moving the meatballs around occasionally. Transfer to a wide serving bowl and garnish with more Parmesan and the basil.
Meatballs are such a versatile and family-friendly meal, whether you serve them on their own, top a plate of pasta with them, or get creative! This recipe is a great jumping-off point. You can make it as written, use all beef or all pork, or even swap it out for lamb. Turn these into sandwiches by stuffing the meatballs into hoagie rolls and topping with provolone cheese and plenty of the sauce, or make cute little meatball sliders. Use this method for making the meatballs, but mix it up with different spices and sauces to create an entirely new dish. Pork meatballs made with plenty of ground cumin are great in a tomatillo sauce, and beef meatballs mixed with copped cilantro and a little hoisin sauce would be amazing in a hearty ramen noodle soup.