Meatballs and Red Gravy

Next week, high school soccer kicks off — which means between high school and junior high, we will spend every night this week shivering in a stadium somewhere watching the boys play — and I love every single minute of it. Seriously!

Teaching seniors reminds me yearly how fast these days go by. Plus, it helps that I genuinely enjoy the sport and I love all the other kids on the team, too. Supporting my students while I cheer on my own kids is definitely the sweet spot of teaching.

BUT there is one serious drawback. Soccer season absolutely wreaks havoc on my supper schedule.

Despite many attempts, I am not a very good crock-potter. However, I’ve found that if I make a big batch of something hearty, I can pull it from the freezer or fridge into the crockpot when we get home from school, and it’s ready and hot when the soccer game is over.

Enter meatballs and red gravy.

I love that this recipe is infinitely scalable… I usually triple the meatballs and put the rest in the freezer to be reheated with jarred sauce on a soccer night (Rao’s marinara is my absolute favorite for this — see the note following the recipe).

For the meatballs:

(I usually use 3 pounds of meat and multiply the following ingredients by 3, but I have done it with up to 5 pounds of meat)

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 pounds hamburger meat, and then, for each pound of hamburger meat:
  • 1 egg (so for 3 lbs meat, I use 3 eggs, etc., for all remaining ingredients)
  • 1/4 onion, chopped very fine (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon onion powder)
  • 2 pieces of white bread, wet and wrung out
  • 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients until you cannot see the bread.
  • Optional: (but I do it every time) make a small, flat disk of the seasoned mixture (about the size of a quarter). Brown it in a nonstick skillet and taste for seasonings… or let your pickiest kid taste 😉 this keeps me from under or over seasoning, and I do it with big batches of hamburgers, too.
  • Adjust seasoning as necessary. Using a cookie scooper, form into meatballs, about 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter
  • Freeze the meatballs you will use later on a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
  • For the meatballs you plan to eat tonight, cook them in one of two ways: either brown them in a skillet in some olive oil (5-7 minutes, a little splattery, but better flavor), or bake them in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes, until brown.
  • Gently place browned meatballs in the sauce and cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour.

For the sauce:

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 28 ounces (2 cans) tomato sauce
  • 14 ounces (1 can) water
  • 6 ounces (about 1/2 can) wine
  • 1 scant teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Pour 1-2 tablespoons olive oil into a big pot. Heat until a drop of water dropped in will sizzle. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook the onion for 7-8 minutes until translucent.
  • Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Slowly add the tomato sauce, stirring to incorporate. Using the empty tomato sauce can, add one can water and about 1/2 can red wine. Add sugar and seasonings, and bring to a simmer.
  • Add the meatballs and cook for about an hour.
  • Serve over hot, cooked pasta. When cooking the pasta, you can add about 1/4 cup sauce to the hot, drained pasta to keep it from sticking. I also will add up to 1 cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce, if needed.

Notes:

I usually make this on the weekend. We eat it with the original sauce on a Sunday night. Then I freeze the remaining meatballs (without sauce) on a wax-paper lined tray in the fridge over night. The next day, I drop them into a gallon freezer bag and store in the freezer. Then, on a soccer night (or other busy night), I drop 12 frozen meatballs in the slow cooker with 1 jar Rao’s marina and 1/2 jar water. I cook on high for 2-3 hours (or low for 6-8) then come home and make pasta while the boys shower. Add a bagged salad and store bread, and it’s a pretty awesome weeknight dinner.

The meatball recipe comes from my friend and coworker Dana Tucker Jefferson, who also put it in the Neville Tiger Cookbook we made as a quiz bowl fundraiser a few years back. The technique of using an ice cream/ cookie scooper for the meatballs came from one of my students in a recent food presentation. The red gravy comes from trial and error, and my memories of my friend Christina’s grandmother, who made meatballs and red gravy for her many children and grandchildren every Sunday for lunch. #goals.

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