Sunday, November 3, 2013

Italian Meatballs With Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

Pin It

Here the most famous tomato sauce on the Internet, from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, is added to Italian meatballs for an unforgettable main dish.

As most of you know, Marcella Hazan recently passed away in her home in the Florida Keys.  She was the Italian Julia Child and is responsible for educating Americans in the true elements of authentic Italian cooking.  I have most of her books and have been making her recipes, including her famous Bolognese, since they were published.  I have to confess, though, that although I had heard about it many times, I had never made her famous Tomato Sauce until tonight .  It is supposed to have gone viral the moment it was published.  The amazing thing is that it is so simple anyone can make it, including the Sous Chef with her eyes closed.

This tomato sauce is a very subtle sauce, nothing like the robust one most of us are used to.  It has no herbs and, God forbid, garlic.  Just tomatoes, one onion and butter. Make sure, though, that you buy the best Italian canned tomatoes like San Marzano's.

On Halloween night I had no time to be creative with dinner. I had to serve something hearty, yet quick and simple, so I could greet the kiddies at the door and rush back to my neighbor's house to snap photos of his fabulous decorations and post them before midnight.  I had some chopped sirloin and pork left over in the freezer and the thought of meatballs with a baguette came to mind.  I had this sauce in back of my mind ever since I heard Ms. Hazan had passed away.  Perhaps I had never tried it because I was so enamored of the one I always make which is Lidia Bastianich's and our favorite.   Time for a new adventure.  After all, it was Halloween night, everyone was hassled and, in a pinch, there was plenty of candy.

Suffice it to say that in spite of the trick or treaters interrupting our meal every five or ten minutes, we enjoyed the new recipe tremendously.  I am not much of a lover of spaghetti with meatballs but this is now a favorite.  

Since the sauce was subtle,  I felt I had to tone down the meatballs.  I added maybe two tablespoons of fresh basil and a small amount of garlic.  I coated them in a little flour to sear the outside and keep them moist inside.  They turned out juicy and slightly brown on the outside, a perfect combination for the sauce.  

Of course we could not eat all the meatballs in one night, so half were frozen before coating them with flour.  The rest my daughter took to work for lunch.

If meatballs are not your cup of tea, at least try the sauce one day with spaghetti.  You should,  at least for the sake of tasting what some people consider the best tomato sauce under the sun. I thought it was excellent and, albeit different, enjoyed it almost as much as the one I usually make.  Like the chicken previously posted, sometimes it's okay to cheat on our recipes.

I know I have been on an Italian kick for awhile now and promise the next recipe will be radically different.

Italian Meatballs With Marcella's Tomato Sauce 

Serves 6, enough to sauce 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta or add to the meatballs

For the sauce

  • 2 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes).
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
  • Salt to taste
  1. Put either the prepared fresh tomatoes or the canned in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.
  2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon.
  3. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing with pasta. Same if you are adding to the meatballs.  Serve with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table.

For the meatballs 

In a bowl combine 1 lbs ground sirloin with 1 lbs. ground pork 

Add 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil.

In a skillet melt 2 TB olive oil and 2 TB butter

Sautee  3 garlic cloves, mashed and diced and 1/2 cup chopped onion until translucent.  Add to the meat.

Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.

Season with salt and pepper.

Shape meat into 1 1/2 inch meatballs.  Refrigerate for at least 1/2  hour or more.

In a small bowl place about 1 cup flour.  Add more if necessary.

Bring meatballs out of refrigerator, pass through flour.  Hold meatballs between your fingers after flouring and shake off excess.

Add a 1/2 cup of olive oil and 2 TB butter to the clean frying pan and heat on medium high.  When ready add the meatballs being careful not to overcrowd.  Sautee on one side for about 5 minutes.  Turn and do the same on the other side.  Fold a paper napkin and lay on top of a plate.  With a slotted spoon remove meatballs from the pan and place on the plate.  Repeat with the rest of the meatballs until they are all browned and slightly cooked. 

Add the meatballs to the sauce.  Mix and cook for about 10 minutes in a low heat. Add a little water if the sauce becomes too thick.  I added some of my vodka on the rocks but that is optional.

Serve with a good sprinkling of grated fresh Parmesan cheese and enjoy with a baguette or spaghetti on the side. 

Photos: Lindaraxa


  1. I love a good meatball and I've been making her sauce for years. I love that cookbook, too. And I've had that for years. Now you've made me ravenous because I love this sauce!

  2. I think I would enjoy the simplicity of this sauce. Sometimes tomato sauces can be overpowering and have a lingering flavor. The food world lost a great when Marcella passed.

  3. This is similar to the fresh tomato sauce my mother often makes, except that I believe she adds chopped celery (obviously optional, according to taste), and possibly cooks it for less time. I'll have to try the Hazan version for comparison.

  4. Funny you should post this today: I had just bought meat balls at Whole Foods on Friday. Three nice size yummy meat balls. Well.....little did I realize they had fennel in them! Oh no, can't stand fennel, so I could barely eat half of one. Peter wasn't crazy about them period. So.....I am going to try these just to see. Which book are they from, or not?

  5. really doesn't get simpler than that. The butter is a lovely idea... it warms the sauce. Great looking meatballs too!

  6. Such a simple sauce. Quality ingredients make all of the difference I am sure. Love your meatball recipe and the addition of vodka to the sauce. LOL.

  7. I've made my own style of sauce for spaghetti or other pasta for years, but last evening I made the Simple Tomato Sauce (really simple--with no meatballs) a la Marcella Hazan and loved it! Even went back for seconds, and my daughter thought it was great also. It helped that Fresh Market was running a special on their cans of San Marzano tomatoes when I was by there yesterday. Will definitely keep that recipe on the "front burner" and pass it along as well.

    1. You have to go out on a limb sometimes and try new recipes. Who would have thought such a simple sauce would taste so good. Thanks for letting me knowl

  8. Sauce is amazing, meatballs not. Please please do not discard the onion! Why would you do that? I sneak it out and eat it out of a bowl with some garlic bread, or save it to chop fine and add to another dish. It's full of rich, mild flavor. Why on earth would you throw it away?!


Thank you for visiting Lindaraxa. Your comments are much appreciated.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Pin It button on image hover