Chef’s Recipe: Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Wednesday, 2 March 2011 | Tags: , , , ,

The Frankies of New York were our guests for our Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag episode A16: Food + Wine. They couldn't stop bragging about their own meatball recipe, which we talked them into sharing with us!

Makes 6 servings; 18 to 20 meatballs

Ingredients – Meatballs

4 slices bread (2 packed cups’ worth)
2 pounds ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus about 1 cup for serving
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
15 turns white pepper
4 large eggs
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

Preparation – Meatballs

Heat the oven to 325°F. Put the fresh bread in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it soak for a minute or so. Pour off the water and wring out the bread, then crumble and tear it into tiny pieces.

Combine the bread with all the remaining ingredients (except the tomato sauce, see below) in a medium mixing bowl, adding them in the order they are listed. Add the dried bread crumbs last to adjust for wetness: the mixture should be moist wet, not sloppy wet.

Shape the meat mixture into handball-sized meatballs and space them evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The meatballs will be firm but still juicy and gently yielding when they’re cooked through. (At this point, you can cool the meatballs and hold them in the refrigerator for as long as a couple of days, or freeze them for the future.)

Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the meatballs comfortably.

Dump the meatballs into the pan of sauce and nudge the heat up ever so slightly. Simmer the meatballs for half an hour or so (this isn’t one of those cases where longer is better) so they can soak up some sauce. Keep them there until it’s time to eat.

Serve the meatballs 3 to a person in a healthy helping of the red sauce. Hit everybody’s portion – never the pan – with a fluffy mountain of grated cheese.

Reserve the leftover tomato sauce (it will be super-extra-delicious) and use it anywhere tomato sauce is called for in other recipes (like from The Frankie’s own cookbook, “The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual”.)

Ingredients & Thoughts – Tomato Sauce

Use good Italian canned tomatoes and high quality olive oil when making this sauce, and take your time – there’s no rushing it. When you’re cooking the garlic, you want to very, very slowly convert the starches in it to sugars and then to caramelize those sugars. Slow and steady. Then get the tomatoes in and let them simmer. Not a ton happens over the four hours – no epic deepening of color or furious reduction – but it cooks as much water out of the tomatoes as possible without turning them into tomato paste.

Makes about 3 quarts

1 cup olive oil
13 cloves garlic
One 96-ounce can (or, if you can find it, 1-kg) or four 28-ounce cans
Italian tomatoes (e.g. San Marzano)
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Preparation – Tomato Sauce

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large deep saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring or swirling occasionally, until the garlic is deeply colored – striations of deep brown running through golden cloves – and fragrant. If the garlic starts to smell acrid or sharp or is taking on color quickly, pull the pan off the stove and reduce the heat.

While the garlic is getting golden, deal with the tomatoes: Pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands. We like to pull out the firmer stem end from each of the tomatoes as we crush them and discard those along with the basil leaves that are packed into the can.

When the garlic is just about done, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and cook them for 30 seconds or a minute, to infuse their flavor and spice into the oil. Dump in the tomatoes, add the salt, and stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, get the sauce simmering at a gentle pace (not aggressively) and simmer for 4 hours. Stir it from time to time. Mother it a little bit.

Check the sauce for salt at the end. The sauce can be cooked with meat at this point, or stored, covered, in the fridge for at least 4 days or frozen for up to a few months.


Excerpted from “The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual” by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo & Peter Meehan (Artisan Books). Copyright 2010.


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  • Tara Jaeger

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have been looking for the authentic taste that Lucy makes at the true Italian ristorante near my home….. I think you’ve finally given me the secret….Oh, so simple too!…Yum!