Nona’s Meatballs & Marinara

Nona's Meatballs & Marinara

Welcome back everyone. I hope you survived the holiday fun (Read: madness). Personally, my Christmas dinner was a bit of a disaster. Sure, it tasted great once it got to the table, but I grew a few gray hairs during the process…and I may have a small bald spot on my head in a place that I just cannot see yet. How could I let it go down like that?! The cooking mayhem happened because I broke two of my personal holiday cooking rules:

1. Never make a new recipe on a holiday

2. Always stick to your pre-planned cooking schedule

Because I did not follow these rules, I prettttty much looked like this on Christmas.


So to ring in the New Year on a positive note, here at The Salty table, I’m going to share something really special with you. Not just regular special, but really special. What’s with all the ‘specials’ you ask? Well, let me tell you. Rather, let me introduce you to my Nona’s Meatball & Marinara recipe. Now, Nona Volpe was from Naples, and I have to say she was a little, well, ‘salty’. But she made a bangin’ sauce.

Honestly, I swore I would never share this publicly, (I even denied my poor father-in-law the recipe at one point) but the spirit of the New Year has got me in the mood to share. Now, good meatballs and marinara are all about two things: The right tomatoes and the right method. Because of this I took a lot of pictures, and I’m going to step-by-step this one so you guys can really nail the flavor and hopefully enjoy this as much as I do. And hey, if your going to share a secret recipe, go big or go home. Here we go!

For the Meatballs you will need:
2Lb Ground beef
4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1/4 C milk
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

Place the slices of bread in a bowl and pour the milk over the bread. Press the bread with a fork to absorb the milk. If the slices a re still dry, add a bit more milk. Now in a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients, except the ground beef. Add in the ground beef and lightly mix with a fork until just combined, don’t mash it or over mix. Rolls the mixture into 2″ balls. Heat a bit of olive oil and a bit of vegetable oil (to bring the smoke point up) in a large pan to medium heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Work in batches, do not crowd the meatballs. After browning, set aside on a paper towel lined plate while you make the sauce. Drain the oil from the pan, but don’t clean it- you will use the same pan for the sauce.


For the sauce you will need:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup good red wine (something you would drink)
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes (peeled tomatoes, in juice)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
a few dashes of worstershire sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Using the same pan you made the meatballs in, add and heat olive oil. Add in onion, sauté until tender. Add in pinch of red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir and cook for one minute.

add in tomato paste, stir. cook this mixture until it begins to brown and get pasty. This is your flavor base.

Now add in your wine

Simmer until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Now add in the San Marzano tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, worstershire, and balsamic.

Give it a big stir. You can either break the tomatoes up with a masher, or use an immersion blender to smooth out the sauce. (My nona used to just cook it to death until they broke down by themselves, but I have modernized the recipe and made it take less than 4 hours. The added balsamic and worstershire add a depth of flavor so it doesn’t need to simmer as long.)

Now, taste your sauce. Adjust with salt and pepper if needed. If it is to tangy, add a bit more sugar. If it needs a little zing, add a few more dashes of balsamic vinegar. When you have the flavor you like, add in the meatballs.

Continue cooking this for another 30 minutes, until the meatballs cook all the way through.

To serve:
Toss pasta of your choice with freshly grated parm cheese and some of the sauce. Place in a large pasta bowl or platter. Top with meatballs and rest of sauce. Pass additional Parmesan.


And there you have it folks! I’m so happy to share this recipe with you, I hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I do 🙂 Don’t forget to stop by on Monday for the first Monday Coffee Break of the New Year!

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6 thoughts on “Nona’s Meatballs & Marinara

  1. Oh, pas-ghetti and meatballs, how I love thee so! Rebekah, I feel so honored! I feel like I should be WHISPERING this comment to you, so no one will hear, lol. Thanks for sharing your nona’s secret recipe — yum, yum, and yum! And, girl, I so hear you on the holiday cooking rules — you made me laugh so hard with that photo of Joan Crawford! Great post as always, and yes! We survived the holidays! That deserves a serious (virtual) high five! Big hugs for a wonderful start to a brand new year … and on we go! Have a wonderful week, beauty, and look forward to Monday’s post =)


    1. Thanks Christina!
      And a virtual high-five to you! How did you fare? hopefully not as frighteningly as my ‘Joan’ moment, lol.
      As fun as the holidays are, I do enjoy getting more normal and relaxed rhythm back, in life and in the kitchen.
      Rebekah 🙂

      1. Believe it or not — all things considering — actually darn pretty well, Rebekah, thanks for asking! No frightening “Joan” moments, thank goodness, but I’ve found that as long as I allot A LOT of extra time, I seem to be able to make it all to the table, even if I HAVE a few fires to put out — Huh! Take THAT fires! =)

        Hugs and talk soon,


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