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Mary's Family Kitchen

Good Eats and Fun Treats from the Mountains of North Jersey

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Italian food

Eggplant Balls

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Eggplant Balls

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This is such a great recipe – it’s just so versatile! You can substitute these tasty morsels as a meatless meatball in your pot of Sunday Sauce, (See recipe from previous post), or on top of a delicious plate of pasta, or you can put them on top of a salad, skewer them as an appetizer with a dipping sauce of your choice, or how I like to eat them – I just pop them in my mouth after they have cooled slightly – nothing else needed. These little gems can stand alone!

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Eggplant balls with sauce, or not! Dinner Tonight!

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Eggplant Balls

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, (plus extra for frying),  I use extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pecorino romano cheese (plus 1/2 cup for dredging)
  • 1-1/2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (plus 1/2 cup for dredging)
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme

Instructions

In a large frying pan, heat oil and saute garlic until fragrant.

Add diced eggplant. Eggplants are like sponges, and it will almost immediately soak up all the oil from the pan. So I sometimes drizzle a bit on top as well.

Add the water and cover, and reduce heat to low and “steam” the eggplant until it’s very tender.

Remove cover and stir to “dry out” slightly. Then transfer to a large bowl and cool it to room temp.

*If you add the rest of the ingredients when the eggplant mixture is too hot, it will scramble the eggs – trust me on this one. 😉

When cooled, add the eggs, one cup of the cheese, 1-1/2 cups of bread crumbs, the parsley and thyme.

Mix it all together. I use my hands, but if you do, be prepared because it’s going to get sticky!

Let sit for 10 minutes for the bread crumbs to absorb the eggplant mixture. In the meantime, prepare your dredging station.

In a separate plate, add 1/2 cup cheese with 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs and mix together. Using a 1″ ice cream scoop fill with the eggplant mixture, roll in the breadcrumbs .

Heat a frying pan on medium with approximately 1/4 of olive oil and fry the eggplant balls until golden brown on both sides.

*You could also put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer, and bake them at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Let’s start with some Sunday Sauce

Whether you call it gravy or sauce doesn’t really matter, what does matter is that it tastes really GREAT!

Maybe I’ve taken making Sunday sauce to the extreme, but I have a ritual of sorts which brings me right back to my  best childhood memories.

It all began at a place we affectionately called “the back of the store.” The kitchen behind my grandparents’ butcher shop was where our entire family gathered ritualistically every Sunday – as well as most other days – for great food and lively conversations (sometimes too lively), and always ended with playing cards, cigars outside, espresso and anisette.

My grandpa Louis Napolitano (middle) in front of the Savoye Meat Market on Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, NJ sometime around 1930.
My grandpa Louis Napolitano (middle) in front of the Savoye Meat Market on Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, NJ sometime around 1930.

In an effort to pass tradition to my children, onions and garlic don’t hit my pot until I have certain must-haves in place. So let’s set the mood!

1. I set my Pandora station to Traditional Italian Radio. It plays all the classics – Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Louie Prima…You get the idea.
2. Get on your favorite apron.
3. Pour yourself a jelly jar glass of your favorite wine. My favorite is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now we’re ready to start cooking! Trust me, this is going to be fun!

Sunday Sauce

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped fine
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small package of sweet Italian sausage (about 8-10)
  • 1 small package of hot Italian sausage (about 8-10)
  • Meatballs (recipe below)
  • 6 spare ribs
  • 7 cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 14 oz. water
  • 1- 6-oz. can of tomato paste
  • Red wine (enough to fill up empty paste can twice)
  • 1 heaping tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 t. allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (save this until the end)
  • grated pecorino romano or locatelli cheese

Instructions:

Start the sauce

In a huge pot (I prefer stainless steel) on medium, saute onion in olive oil.

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When the onion is translucent, add garlic (Be careful not to burn or you will need to start again). Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the crushed tomatoes, paste, water, 1 can’s worth of red wine (the other is for deglazing the meatball and sausage pan later), brown sugar, and allspice.

Let simmer on low while preparing the sausage and meatballs.

Cook the sausage

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Heat up a large frying pan on medium-high.

Put the sausages in a large frying pan and add enough water to just barely cover them. Heat the water until it boils then lower to medium for 10 minutes. Drain the water.

Now, in a new pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and brown the sausages.

Once they are browned, cut the hot sausages in half and leave the sweet sausages whole (this way you can tell which are which). Remove sausage and set aside. Don’t wash the frying pan, we will use the same pan to cook the meatballs.

BONUS: Cook the ribs

Ribs are optional, but the pork adds really great flavor. My grandfather used to add different cut of meat he had available for different flavors – everything from ribs to braciole to tenderloin. It’s really simple: Just brown, and add to the sauce to give it a little something different. The more meat, the better.

Cook the meatballs

  • 3 lbs ground chuck (I use 85%)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 heaping cup Italian flavored breadcrumbs
  • 3 slices of white bread soaked in water (drained, not squeezed)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley chopped or a combination of half parsley and half basil
  • 1 c. grated pecorino romano or locatelli cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped very fine

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Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix (You could use a wooden spoon, but I just get in there with my hands).

Shape into medium-sized balls. I use an ice cream scoop to make the meatballs a uniform shape, then roll them into a ball with my hands. I also like to make a few mini ones (I like to call them “testers” – nothing will ever taste better).

Fry gently in olive oil until lightly browned, drain on paper towels, then toss directly into sauce to finish cooking. **Except for the testers, you will want to eat them now! For quality control of course 😉

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Finish the sauce

Take the last can worth of wine (6 oz.) and deglaze the pan of all the delicious bits and add to your already decadent simmering sauce. (Deglazing is just a fancy term which means to add liquid to your pan so you can loosen and use every morsel of browned food to your dish).

Now add all of the meat back into your pot with the sauce.

Add parsley and turn down to low. Let sauce simmer until done, about 3-4 hours.

As everyone an tell you, sometimes I over-do it. ;)
As everyone can tell you, sometimes I over-do it. 😉

Tasting is always encouraged, and this is where you can make the recipe to suit your own tastes. For example add salt, pepper, red pepper for spice, other browned meats, extra wine, etc. Of course tasting with fresh Italian bread is always a good way to go…quality control of course!

Serve over your favorite pasta (I use thin spaghetti or rigatoni), and top with grated Parmesan if desired. Enjoy!

A tidbit about meatballs…

On Sunday afternoons, we used to pack up and go to the Jersey Shore sometimes, as a kid I used to marvel at everyone around us with their sandwiches. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t having spaghetti and meatballs sitting in the sand, like us. They didn’t know what they were missing! True story – Good old Grandma and Grandpa 🙂

Me, my grandpa (left) and my Grandma, who we called Grandma-Ma, about 1965.
Me, my grandpa (left) and my Grandma, who we called Grandma-Ma, about 1965.

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