Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rao's Meatballs and Marinara

Rao's is another New York institution. Wednesday night is meatball night, but goodluck getting a reservation. My mom has had the Rao's cookbook for years and their meatballs are my favorite. The combo of beef, pork, and veal is delicious and they turn out surprisingly light and fluffy. If you have the time, making homemade marinara is a nice touch.

Anna & Frankie's Rao's Meatballs
*Recipe courtesy of The Rao's Cookbook by Frank Pellegrino

(Makes about 28 meatballs. Recipe was very easy to halve if you don't need so many.)

1 pound ground lean beef
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (I used a bit more.)
1 ½ tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
½ small garlic clove, peeled and minced, optional
2 cups bread crumbs
2 cups lukewarm water
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup good olive oil

Combine beef, veal, and pork in a large bowl.  Add eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic and salt and pepper to taste.  Using your hands, blend ingredients together.  Blend bread crumbs into meat mixture.  Slowly add water, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture is quite moist.

Shape meat mixture into balls. (About 2 1/2 to 3 inches.) 

Heat oil in a large sauté pan.  When oil is very hot but not smoking, fry meatballs in batches.  When bottom half of meatball is very brown and slightly crisp turn and cook top half.

Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

Lower cooked meatballs into simmering marinara sauce and cook for 15 minutes.  Serve over pasta or on their own.

Rao's Marinara Sauce

2 28-oz. cans imported Italian plum tomatoes with basil (Try to buy San Marzano tomatoes. If you can't find them with basil, it is no big deal.)
¼ cup good olive oil
2 ounces fatback or salt pork, optional (You can use 2 pieces of bacon if you don't have any fatback on hand. I used a couple pieces of that heaven bacon I got at The Linkery and it worked great.)
3 tablespoons minced onion (I used a bit more because I like onion.)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Salt to taste
6 leaves fresh basil, torn, optional
Pinch dried orégano
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove tomatoes from the can, reserving the juice in which they are packed.  Using your hands, crush the tomatoes, gently remove and discard the hard core from the stem end, and remove and discard any skin and tough membrane.  Set aside.

Put oil in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat.  If using fatback or bacon, cut it into small pieces and add to the pan.  Sauté for about 5 minutes or until all fat has been rendered.  Remove and discard fatback or bacon.

Then add onion.  Sauté for 3 minutes or until translucent and just beginning to brown.  Stir in garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or until just softened.  Stir in tomatoes, reserved juice, and salt.  Raise heat, and bring to a boil.. Immediately reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook for about 1 hour or until flavors have combined and sauce is slightly thickened.  (If you prefer a thicker sauce, cook for an additional 15 minutes.)

Stir in basil, orégano, and pepper, and cook for an additional minute.  Remove from heat and serve.

We completed our meal with a sangiovese. In Italy, sangiovese is the most planted varietal. It makes sense that this wine is the perfect partner to any tomato based sauce. Sangiovese can be a bit acidic and sometimes earthy, but more than anything it is a very easy drinking wine. I used to pour plenty of this wine behind the bar and I would always tell people it is a great dinner party wine because it is an easy drinker and crowd pleaser. We had a bottle from Luna Vineyards that was really good and very reasonably priced. Cheers!