This cherished meatballs in red sauce recipe sneaks in a secret ingredient

After my daughter, Maggie, was born, I realized I needed a little extra help. Between work, a new baby and keeping up with my active preschooler, Jon David, I was running on fumes. I was fortunate enough to find the best nanny I could ever hope for in Therese Rosso, known at my house as Ms. Therese. She taught Maggie everything from table manners to tying her shoes to blowing bubbles with bubble gum. Now, 18 years later, she is still very much a part of our family. Aside from being an amazing caregiver, Ms. Therese is also a wonderful cook. One of our favorite dishes is Ms. Therese’s meatballs in red sauce. These meatballs are moist, tender and full of flavor—and they can easily be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd. One of her tricks to keeping the meatballs moist is adding a slice of white bread and breadcrumbs to the meat mixture. Ms. Therese uses tomato puree for her light red sauce. I cheat a bit and use the Ragu Traditional Sauce, which makes for an easy substitute and complements the meatballs quite well. Ms. Therese’s meatball recipe will forever be cherished by my family, but not as much as we will forever cherish Ms. Therese.

Yields 8 meatballs with sauce

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For the red sauce:

3 tablespoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 (32-ounce) jar Ragu Traditional Sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried basil

  1. In a large sauce pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat for 10 seconds. Add in the red pepper flakes and stir for another 15 to 20 seconds.
  2. Stir in the minced garlic and continue sautéing for 20 to 25 seconds or until the garlic becomes fragrant, stirring constantly to make sure the garlic does not burn.
  3. Add in the Ragu, sugar, salt and dried herbs. Bring the sauce up to a simmer and add in the baked meatballs (recipe follows).

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For the meatballs:

1 pound ground beef

¼ cup minced onions

2 cloves minced garlic

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 egg

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup breadcrumbs

1 slice white bread, torn into pieces

¼ cup water

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Place the ground meat into a large mixing bowl. Add in the minced onion, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.
  3. Crack in the egg and sprinkle in the cheese, breadcrumbs and pieces of white bread.
  4. Use your hands to gently combine all the ingredients into the meat. Add in the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meat mixture comes together and is moist but not wet.
  5. Use a 3- to 4-ounce scoop to portion out the meatballs. Gently press them together so the meatballs hold their shape.
  6. Place them on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned.
  7. Remove the meatballs from the oven and place them into the red sauce. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking the meatballs in the sauce for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent from sticking to the pot. Serve the meatballs and sauce over your favorite spaghetti or pasta.

This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of 225 magazine.