Every Sunday at Giorgio Giacinto’s home in the Bronx, the sweet aroma of homemade tomato sauce would waft through the house first thing in the morning. This would be the normal smell in any Italian household on a Sunday morning, but in the Giacinto family, the sauce was on a tight schedule—it had to be ready by the time the meatballs were being prepared, and the meatballs had to be ready as soon as the soccer games were over in the afternoon. Nonna’s secret ingredient: tomato sauce in the meatball mix. “Adding it in while you are preparing the meatballs makes them really moist,” Giacinto explains. Once the meatballs were ready, his nonna would drop them back into the sauce to cook some more.
Decades later, when Giacinto went to put meatballs on his menu at his restaurant Da Giorgio in New Rochelle, he knew the simple recipe would be delicious, but wanted to add a little something extra. So he poked a hole in the meatball and slipped in a nice little chunk of mozzarella. This means his already moist, saucy, and flavorful meatballs ooze warm, delicious, melted mozzarella cheese.
“The ingredients are the star of the show in this simple but very flavorful food,” Giacinto said, explaining that he tries his best to buy ingredients that are as fresh as what would be available in Calabria, Italy. He relies on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for quality meat, fish and vegetables. Giacinto was born and raised in the Bronx, where he still lives today, but both his parents are from Calabria, and he spent time there working as a chef. “It was not easy to recreate the dish I grew up with or saw when I worked in Calabria, but one thing I knew for sure was that no one makes a meatball like the Calabrese,” Giacinto said.
Giacinto calls his dish, “Giovanna’s Stuffed Meatball Calabrese,” named after his mother, who taught him and his sisters his nonna’s recipe. Channel your inner-nonna and see how yours come out.
77 Quaker Ridge Rd
(yields six large meatballs)
1½ lbs ground meat, a mix of veal, beef, and pork (preferred from Vincent’s Meat Market on Arthur Avenue)
1/3 cup chopped parsley
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 large egg
1½ Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup tomato sauce plus more for braising meatballs
4 oz day-old Italian Bread, crusts removed (preferred from Madonia Brothers Bakery on Arthur Avenue)
¼ cup heavy cream
ground black pepper to taste
6 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
Preparation Time 30 minutes
1) Prepare tomato sauce (See below)
2) Soak bread in heavy cream until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
3) In a mixing bowl, combine ground meat, egg, soaked bread, tomato sauce, Pecorino, parsley, garlic, and black pepper.
4) With hands, mix all ingredients for four to five minutes until you have achieved a smooth consistency (the consistency is key, otherwise the mozzarella will not stay inside)
5) Divide meat into 6 equal portions. Wet hands slightly and form the meatballs.
6) With index finger make a deep impression in the center of the meatball, insert cube of mozzarella
7) Close and seal meatball by rubbing olive oil around meatball
8) Bake (at 350 degrees) or fry your meatballs until brown. Transfer to a pot, add enough tomato sauce to cover, and cook until the meatballs are tender, about 25 minutes.
Plus, to go with those meatballs, here’s an additional sauce recipe:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
4 garlic cloves peeled -one clove sliced in thin slices, others leave whole
½ medium carrot
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2, 28 ounce cans La Valle peeled whole tomatoes, passed in blender until smooth
Salt to taste
• Blend the peeled whole tomatoes in a blender until smooth, leave aside
• In a 4 quart sauce pan, heat olive oil
• Add onion, carrot and garlic and cook at medium to high heat until the onions turn a light golden color (about 4-6 minutes)
• Add the tomato blended mixture and bring to a boil.
• Bring down to a simmer
• Add basil
• While on simmer, stir sauce often for about 30 minutes
• >Remove the carrot and whole garlic cloves before you add the meatballs into the sauce to cook
• Add meatballs into the simmering sauce and cook for about 25 minutes