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This Meatball Recipe Could Be the Best Of All Time

By on October 7, 2016

It may sound boring, bizarre, or “not right”—but trust me. This Italian-American use-up-what’s-left-in-the-garden dish is the greatest meal ever.

Like most Greatest Recipes of All Time, it has its roots in nostalgia. My grandma Dot, whose family came from Southern Italy, used to make this for my father. And she taught it to my mom (as was typical in the ’60s), who in turn made if for our family. To me, it was a bittersweet dish: sweet because I loved it so much, bitter because it meant summer was done. Kaput. Finito. But man, was it good.

As a meal, it’s exactly what it sounds like: string (or green) beans, simmered in a tomato sauce along with meatballs until just tender. Okay, the “just tender” part was something I added in once I started making it for my family. My mother and grandmother both adhered to the “cook the crap out of it” school of vegetable cookery. Call me fancy, but I like a little bite in my beans. It makes use of the two things we always had way too much of this time of year: overripe tomatoes and string beans. Because there is no pasta (we’d generally serve it with a loaf of Italian bread my dad would pick up on the way home from work) it was surprisingly light. And the leftovers are killer in a sandwich the next day for lunch.

Here’s how you do it:

First: Make meatballs. We made ’em pretty standard Italian-style. Use a pound or so of mixed meats (we always bought “meatball mix” made from veal/beef/pork, a pound for every two people), an egg, grated Parm, some breadcrumbs—likely “seasoned.” Mix. Roll.

Meanwhile, make a sauce: one big onion, a clove of minced garlic, a green pepper (optional!), all sautéed. Add salt and white pepper. Maybe some crushed dried chile flakes. Then add about five pounds of peeled (not optional!) and chopped plum tomatoes. Cook on medium-high for a bit, then bring down to a simmer, add meatballs, partially cover. Cook for 30 minutes.

Add a few handfuls of trimmed string beans to the sauce and simmer until tender but not falling apart. That’s it. Serve in a bowl with crusty bread. You’re done.

A look around this weekend’s farmers’ market showed the time is now to get on the Meatball and String Beans wagon: beans are plentiful and cheap, and they’re practically giving away bags of cosmetically imperfect plum tomatoes.

This dish is the definition of a G.R.O.A.T.: simple, comforting, and dependable. Also: Who doesn’t like meatballs?


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