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Nonna’s meatballs in tomato sauce

Nonna's meatballs in tomato sauce and comfort cooking

I take some of the mince and turn it between the palms of my hands.
I shape the first meatball, not too big and not too small, then I proceed with the second, then the third.

I gradually arrange the meatballs in neat rows on a baking sheet, waiting for them to cook.
Grandma Sara’s meatballs in sauce with peas deserve special care.

Nonna's meatballs in tomato sauce and comfort cooking

The kitchen as comfort zone

These days I cook methodically, insistently, and silently.
If I stay focused, I keep sad thoughts of war out of the kitchen, even if only briefly.

I choose comforting recipes that take care of me even before tasting them. While cooking, food spreads irresistible fragrant molecules in the air, enveloping the kitchen and people in a blanket of scents that protects and awakens pleasant memories.

On the stove is a slow simmering ragù that I haven’t made in at least two decades, a pot of veggies blanching for a new recipe I’m waiting for to try for a while, the week’s bread in the oven, the already weighed ingredients of a breakfast cake.

Sometimes, I think my kitchen looks like a deli.
The hustle and bustle of pots in the sink, stove on, and ingredients dancing between pantry and countertop tell of my obsession with cooking. But also about the positive effect cooking has on me. It makes me feel good knowing I’ll be sharing that food with my family, sitting at the kitchen table, with the evening lights on to greet the end of the day.

In this day and age, that’s something to be thankful for.

Cooking and not thinking. So I start again.
I cut, peel, slice, toast, taste.

In the kitchen, I am almost always serene. It’s the only place where I seldom cry, where I can stop thinking about the world I used to know and which, I realize, is no longer there.
Maybe people haven’t changed, despite a worldwide pandemic (still ongoing) and the war in Ukraine.

The situations we are living are new, unexpected, different.
I’m confused and grieving, so I try to do what I can and do well.
Among them, I write my blog, which is a virtual extension of my kitchen in Bologna.
It’s the place where I try to keep those who stop by to read and cook away from ugly thoughts, even if just for the preparation time or a family meal.

Meatballs in tomato sauce

Comfort cooking

It’s a concept I assimilated as a child.
If parents went out on a Saturday night, there was a silent agreement between us little girls and Grandma. The absence of the parents would be balanced by a special dinner.

The prospect of an exceptional dish to offset that non-presence worked.
Around dinnertime, while mom and dad were getting ready to leave, we were already outside the kitchen door sniffing the air like little bloodhounds.

Usually, Grandma reserved the stews for Sunday night, but there was always the hope that meatballs in tomato sauce with peas were waiting for us.

When our parents came by to say hello before leaving, we had all our senses captured by the food on our plates, and the melancholy took a back seat.

I suppose it’s for that reason, plus the fact that Saturday night’s meatballs in tomato sauce were an exceptional event, I associate this dish with compensation and comfort recipes.

Meatballs in tomato sauce with peas. Recipe of nonna Sara

Nonna used to make several versions of meatballs, but these are the ones we loved the most in our family. In my family lexicon, these are Grandma’s meatballs.

Nonna was used to making this kind of meatballs in tomato sauce using a minced loin of pork flavored with grated Parmigiano, mortadella, and sausage that she softened by adding a practically perfect amount of ricotta cheese.

She would let the meatballs rest on a tray for about ten minutes before lightly frying them in a large pan so that the meatballs were well distributed and not clumped together, and in a generous amount of olive oil for a few minutes.

Helping herself with a fork, she would turn the meatballs, waiting for a thin crust on the outside that kept the inside soft and juicy.

At this point, she would add plenty of homemade tomato passata, chosen among the bottles neatly arranged on the shelves in the cellar that was, and still is, the family pantry.

She added water, peas (or raw potatoes cut into small chunks), and a pinch of salt, stirred another time, then cooked for the time necessary to transform the tomato into fat and not a too-thick sauce that would accompany the final scarpetta.

Buona cucina, Monica

Cook with me

I grew up on bread and meatballs. Grandma had a vast repertoire of recipes and cooking. I remember fried meatballs or cooked in broth or into the oven, lightly fried meatballs, recycling meatballs (HERE), or vegetable meatballs (HERE). Meatballs are a typical home preparation, and I think there is the main reason why everyone likes them. The home kitchen is not just a room. It is also a place of the heart and memories.

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Meatballs in tomato sauce with peas

Meatballs in tomato sauce with peas

serves 4-6
List of the Ingredients


pork loin, 300g
Italian, fresh sausage, 100g
mortadella Bologna, 50g
cow ricotta cheese, 100g
grated parmesan cheese, 70g
egg, 1
salt and nutmeg to taste

Tomato sauce

tomato puree, 600g
water, 200 ml
salt, olive oil to taste
peas (fresh or frozen), 150g


Ask the butcher to grind together loin, sausage, and mortadella.

At home, place ground beef, ricotta cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl and begin mixing the ingredients with a fork and then your hands.

Use a spoon to scoop out the mixture, form meatballs of the same size (approximately), and place on a tray.

Let’s rest about ten minutes out of the refrigerator (unless it’s a hot day).

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a large pan, turn on the stove, and when the oil starts to get hot, place the meatballs in the pan, spacing them out.

Let them cook for a couple of minutes on each side, turning them a few times. When the outside takes color, pour the sauce in one go, add the water and a pinch of salt, stir and add the peas (if frozen, directly from the freezer).

Cook over medium-low heat and covered pan for about 20-25 minutes, then finish cooking uncovered, cooking the meatballs in sauce for about 15 minutes more.

The sauce should be slow and, if necessary, add a little water.

Serve the meatballs hot but, surprise! on a hot day, try them at room temperature.

Let them cook for a couple of minutes on each side, turning them a few times. When the outside takes color, pour the sauce in one go, add the water and a pinch of salt, stir and add the peas (if frozen, directly from the freezer).

Meatballs in tomato sauce

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