When it comes to pairing wine with food, I don't know that there's a pair I like much better than a big plate of pasta with red wine sauce and tender, aromatic homemade meatballs — paired with a bold and delicious Chianti, of course. It's a classic setup, a staple of Italian-American restaurants, and comfort food extraordinaire. Here's the recipe for the meatballs I cook when I want to make certain members of my family extra, extra happy — and a tangy tomato and red wine sauce too.
So, a word about veal. Have you ever eaten a meatball at a restaurant and thought to yourself, "Gee, I wonder they got that meatball so tender and soft?" The answer is almost certainly veal. I always use a mix of veal, pork, and beef in my meatballs, as I feel this produces a really terrific flavor and texture. I understand that many cooks don't prefer to use veal, however, and in that case I would recommend using ground chicken instead.
Another key to tender meatballs: Cooking the meatballs in the sauce, instead of frying or baking them. Sometimes I like crisped-up meatballs (like these spiced lamb and cilantro ones) and then I bake or broil them to get that crispy exterior. But other times I want a tender, velvety meatball, and then I cook them in the sauce, as here.
Veal Meatballs in Red Wine Saucemakes about 30 meatballs
For the meatballs
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef, such as ground chuck
1/2 pound ground veal
1 teaspoon chunky kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
About 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, from 1 small herb bunch
3/4 cups finely diced or grated yellow onion, from about 1 small yellow onion
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
For the sauce
1 small yellow onion
6 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1 cup beef or chicken broth
32-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
One 4-inch long sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pour the milk over the breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Stir them together and set them aside for at least 10 minutes for the crumbs to soften.
Mix the pork, beef, and veal together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the salt and a generous amount of black pepper, then add the smoked paprika and cayenne. Stir in the chopped parsley, sage, onion, garlic, and Parmesan. Mix with your hands until these are very thoroughly distributed through the meat.
Stir in the breadcrumbs and milk, as well as the eggs, and mix thoroughly.
Shape and cook the meatballs immediately, or refrigerate the meat for up to 24 hours. You can also freeze the meat (in one big lump or as shaped meatballs) in a sealed container for up to 3 months.
Red Wine Sauce
Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Heat a large, deep sauté pan over medium high heat. (It should be large enough to hold the sauce ingredients, as well as most of the meat.) Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until very soft — about 10 minutes, turning the heat down if necessary.
Stir in the tomato paste and fry for a minute or two, stirring until well-incorporated. Pour in the wine and broth and bring to a simmer, then add the tomatoes, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper. Place the rosemary sprig on top, bring to a simmer and cook for 30 to 60 minutes, covered. When the sauce has developed a deep, rich flavor, turn off the heat and puree with an immersion blender (or in a standing blender) until smooth.
To Cook the Meatballs
Shape the meatballs into 1 1/2-inch balls. Place the raw meatballs into the pan of tomato sauce and bring it to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Cover the pan. Cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are fully cooked through and no longer pink inside.
This makes for a very smooth, very tender meatball. If you want a little bit of crispiness to the meatballs in sauce, you can sear them or broil them briefly and then finish cooking them in the sauce.
Serve with pasta or greens and a bold Chianti.
More Meatball Recipes from The Kitchn
• Spiced Lamb Meatballs
• Meatball Lasagna
• Turkey Meatballs over Greens
• Mediterranean Turkey Meatballs with Herbed Yogurt Sauce
• Totally Tender Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
(Images: Faith Durand)