Adapted from a recipe by David DiBari, chef-owner of The Cookery, Dobbs Ferry, New York.
Along with great beef, the starting point for this dish was Chef DiBari’s memory of his grandmother’s meatballs: “The lightest and most flavorful I’ve ever had,” he says. Two meatballs snuggle side by side under a blanket of spicy tomato sauce in a small casserole.
- 6 ounces brioche or challah bread, or country-style white bread
- ¾ cup milk
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (de-stem)
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic
- 4 eggs
- 2 pounds best-quality ground beef (such as top-grade chuck, brisket or a custom blend of brisket and short ribs)
- 1 ½ cups grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- 3 cups homemade or prepared tomato sauce
Cut off bread crusts and slice bread in large cubes. Combine in a bowl with milk, turning cubes to moisten. While bread is soaking, place parsley leaves (2-3 cups) in a food processor. Roughly chop garlic and add to mix. Pulse until parsley and garlic are uniformly chopped. Add eggs and pulse briefly to blend.
Squeeze excess moisture from bread cubes, discarding liquid. Place bread in a large bowl and crumble beef into it. Add cheese, broth and pepper. Mix with hands until well blended. Because cheese and broth contain sodium, you may not need to add more salt.
To test, pull off a small piece of the mixture and fry in a sauté pan; taste and add salt to entire mixture if needed.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread tomato sauce over the bottom of a rectangular baking pan. The meatball mixture will be too wet to form into spherical balls. Instead, shape them like footballs by scooping up about ¾ cup of the mixture and, holding your hands like cradles, turn meat from one to the other until it holds its shape. Gently drop meatball into the sauce. Continue with the remaining mixture, separating the meatballs in the pan.
Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Cook until meatballs are cooked through and sauce is bubbly, about 40 minutes. (Meatballs will not be deeply browned—that’s O.K.)
To Serve: Using a large spoon, place 2 meatballs side by side on each of 6 plates. Spoon some of reduced tomato sauce over meatballs. Serves 6 (makes 12 meatballs).
Chef DiBari recommends a Tuscan Sangiovese-based blend such as Rodano 2009 Fattoria Poggialupi IGT. “A Chianti-style wine is always a good match for meat in tomato sauce—dry, with the big, bold fruit that’s needed,” he says.