Here it is, the sauce everyone thinks of when they hear ‘red sauce’, the one you’ve been waiting for since I started Red Sauce Fridays. Correction: It’s my version of that sauce. This is not one of those over-herbed, over-sweetened red sauces that checked-tablecloth restaurants serve, that helped coin the term “red sauce joints”. This is the sauce that my family eats on an ordinary Sunday—meaning, it’s not fancy, it’s just a very satisfying and family-friendly meal.
Now, I will just put this out there right away: My meatballs are NOT the most flavorful you will ever taste. That is deliberate. I have eaten exquisite meatballs in many situations, savory and assertive with chopped garlic, onions, and grated cheese. Meatballs like that are wonderful. But they have no place in Sunday sauce. The sauce itself is the whole point. Therefore, the meatballs are subtle—because it is understood that you will use each bite to sop up as much sauce as possible. Trust me on this—though meatballs are rarely spotted in Italy, when you do come across them, they are not flavor bombs, but sauce vehicles.
Make the meatballs: Though it is classic to mix pork, beef, and veal, I generally do a mix of 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground pork; I find that I don’t miss the veal (and don’t have to grapple with my conscience) because I like the meatier flavor that these two impart. In addition, though my grandmother used to pride herself on incredibly soft meatballs, but I like a firmer meatball. If you want softer ones, pour a little milk over the breadcrumbs before you mix it all together. In any case, to those 2 pounds of meat, mix a handful of chopped fresh parsley, 1 large egg, almost equal parts breadcrumbs (use something with physical presence here, either homemade breadcrumbs or panko) as meat, and finally, a serious oversized pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Knead it all together. If it seems to hold together, you’re in good shape. If not, because it’s too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If not, because it’s not sticky enough, add another egg. Form into golf-ball-size meatballs.
In the largest Dutch oven you have, warm some olive oil. Add 1 whole onion, and brown the meatballs all the way around, removing them as they are browned. (Turn the onion from time to time so it doesn’t burn in one spot.) Brown 1 pound sweet Italian pork sausage and remove as well. Add about 2 to 3 cups of dry white wine to the pan and simmer a few minutes; add the meat back in and add 3 quarts homemade tomato puree. Bring to a simmer and cook at the lowest possible simmer, partially covered, until the sauce is thickened and the meat is cooked through, at least 3 hours. (The sauce actually improves in flavor if cooked a day ahead.) Serve the sauce over RIGATONI. That’s right, you will not find spaghetti and meatballs here, folks. Fish out the meat and serve it on its own platter (meatballs and sausages are technically a second course, to be eaten after the pasta, but when they are served family-style, you are permitted—no—encouraged, to pop one or two into your pasta bowl when you’re halfway though). Don’t forget the gravy boat of sauce on the side. Did I mention that the sauce was the whole point?