My Nonna’s sauce and meatballs

Courtesy photo

My Nonna on my father’s side was straight up Italian, the real-deal. You did not mess with my Nonna. And she taught me how to make this – so believe me when I tell you this is how you make meatballs and “sauce”.  It was not even called marinara.

And for those of you who are not from Texas, and you are from NJ, NY, PA – you know what I am talking about. It’s sauce. Anyway, give it a try. Use the San Marzano tomatoes. They are sweeter and have a depth you will love. And your “sauce” will thank you.

Bon Appétit! Chef Bettina

Meatballs with Marinara (Sauce)

For the Marinara:

¼  canola oil

2  ounces salt pork or bacon, thinly sliced

3  tablespoons minced onion

2  garlic cloves, minced

2  28-ounce cans imported Italian crushed tomatoes

6  leaves fresh basil, torn into small pieces

Pinch of dried oregano

Salt and ground black pepper


1  pound ground lean beef

½  pound ground veal (if you can get it, if not – add another ½ pound pork)

½  pound ground pork

2  large eggs

1  cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 ½  tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1  small garlic clove, minced

Salt and ground black pepper

2  cups fine dry bread crumbs (make from day old bread in food processor)

½ milk, as needed to make moist

1/2  cup canola oil

1  clove garlic, lightly smashed

Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the salt pork/bacon. Sauté until fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard salt pork. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté just until softened. Add tomatoes with their juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 45 minutes. Add the basil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1 minute more.

Make the meatballs: In a mixing bowl, combine the beef, veal and pork. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley and minced garlic, then salt and pepper as desired. Add the bread crumbs and milk and mix well. Shape into 1 1/2 -inch meatballs.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and sauté until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes, taking care not to burn, then discard the garlic. Working in batches and taking care not to crowd the pan, add meatballs and fry until undersides are brown and slightly crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn and brown the other sides, about 5 minutes more. Transfer cooked meatballs to paper towels to drain, then add to the marinara sauce.  Simmer gently until ready to serve.

*Bettina Tolin is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin. She has cooked in the kitchens of the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Florida. She is currently the executive chef and owner of Marcello’s overlooking the historic lighthouse in Port Isabel. Marcello’s Ocean Grille & Spirits was recently written up in Texas Monthly magazine as the new trending restaurant for dinner and brunch in the South Padre Island area.