Who doesn't love a meatball? Really? I want to know. I'm crazy for their flavors and textures, when done right of course... My meatballs are made in a much more Italian-American style. They are very soft and only require a fork to cut through them. Some people's meatballs are like hockey pucks, which is truly sad because the texture of a fluffy, flavorful meatball is a real treat when you bite into it. Pairing these balls with this tomato sauce full of eggplant adds another layer of flavor, which enhances the meatiness of the meatballs themselves.
Mini Meatballs with Eggplant-Tomato Sauce
550 g good quality ground beef & pork mix (75-25% each is best)
125 g finely chopped celery
110 g finely chopped onions
10 g finely chopped basil
10 g finely chopped parsley
1 c finely chopped spinach (for frozen, use about a half of a cup)
30-35 g breadcrumbs
120 g chopped onions
2 T olive oil + up to a 1/4 of a cup for the eggplant
15 g pressed garlic
420 g chopped eggplant -skin off (about 2)
3 T tomato paste
1/4 c red pesto
100 ml red wine
1 t dried oregano
700 g tomato purée
about 115-130 ml water from rinsing out the jar or cans of tomato purée
Ok... for the meatballs, Finely chop the celery and the onions. Cook them in a pan with 2 T of oil for about 10 minutes on a low/medium-low fire. You want some color on it for good flavor. Then let this mixture cool before adding to the rest of the ingredients into the bowl with the meat mixture.
In a large bowl add the cut herbs, spinach, s&p and meat. Once the onions and celery have cooled off a little bit, add them to the bowl. DO NOT over mix it with your hands. It makes them less soft & fluffy. Gently mix the ingredients together till it looks almost combined. Then add the egg and breadcrumbs. Mix gently until just incorporated. I roll these meatballs very small, a little smaller than a golfball which helps the kids eat them easily, but you can make them whatever size you desire. The only major difference is the cooking time will differ with the size you choose.
These meatballs are rather fragile so you want to handle them with care when cooking and rotating/flipping in the pan and/or tossing into the sauce. When cooking the meatballs I cook each "side" of the meatballs (because one side always flattens out eventually) for 2-3 minutes and then gently drop them into the sauce pan to stay warm and/or to finish cooking depending on their size. Like I said, my meatballs were a little smaller than a golfball, so they cooked in the pan all the way through. I also added the rendered fat from the meatballs into the tomato sauce with the balls, fat is flavor! Your meatballs can be browned on all "sides" and if they are still pink inside and that isn't what you want, drop them into the hot tomato sauce with the lid and they will finish cooking within 5-10 minutes (depending on size).
For the sauce... Sauté the onion in 2 T olive oil for 5-10 minutes, allowing some color to form on medium/medium-low heat with a lid. Then add the garlic and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes.
Of the 1/4 of a cup of olive oil, you will need to add this oil while you are cooking the eggplant. It is very porous and will absorb any liquid with which it makes contact. So, add the eggplant and some of the oil. If it no long is sizzling when cooking add some more oil while stirring. Keep adding oil as necessary. You want it to cook for at least 5 minutes and begin to shrink in size. Mix it regularly. Then add the tomato paste and the red pesto. Stir again regularly, and cook for another 5-8 minutes on the lowest heat with the lid on.
Once ready to add the wine turn up the heat and get it sizzling. Add the wine, and while using the wooden spatula, scrape any bits off the bottom. Cook a couple of minutes at that temperature until about 1/2 of the wine begins to evaporate. Then add the purée, s&p and oregano. Bring to a boil, then drop to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid on.
If adding meatballs, and they are larger in size, you can sear the outside of them and then carefully finish cooking them in the bubbling sauce. But, make sure the sauce is properly warmed up before you place them inside. And be gentle when stirring them, or they might crumble.
You can also serve this atop any kind of pasta.