A Budget-Friendly Meal That's Rich With Italian Flavor

January 13, 2016
Lidia Bastianich shares a recipe for super-savory meatballs with eggplant that will keep your belly and your wallet full.
Catherine Smart
A Budget-Friendly Meal That's Rich With Italian Flavor | WGBH | Craving Boston

Served over spaghetti or polenta, or tucked into crusty bread with melted cheese for a sandwich, meatballs are the ultimate Italian comfort food.  

A very budget-friendly recipe, the ground beef (already an inexpensive cut) stretches even further — and is made more moist and flavorful — with the addition of eggplant, Italian sausage and Grana Padano cheese, the less pricey cousin of Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

The meatballs can be made a day ahead and leftovers freeze beautifully, right in the tomato sauce...but with a dinner this delicious, they'll be gone before you know it. 

Want to meet Lidia Bastianich in person? Purchase your tickets for An Evening with Lidia at the Shubert Theater on January 26th. Each ticket comes with a pre-signed copy of Bastianich's new book Lidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to be a Great Italian Cook, which contains this recipe and many more.

For a chance to win a pair of tickets, support WGBH by making a donation here

Recipe provided by Lidia Bastianich.

Sauce (Melanzane)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, passed through a food mill
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 fresh bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Meatballs (Polpette)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium eggplants (about 1¼ pounds), peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 cups fine dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
2 large eggs

For the sauce: In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, and cook until they are slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, rinse out the tomato cans with 4 cups water, and add that as well. Add the salt, bay leaves and red pepper flakes. Bring it to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the meatballs: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook until it is almost softened, about 6 minutes, then add the eggplants and season with salt. Cover, and cook until the eggplant and onion are tender, about 10 minutes. Scrape everything onto a sheet pan to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the cooled eggplant with the beef, sausage, bread crumbs, parsley, grated cheese and eggs until the mixture just holds together. Form into about forty 2-inch meatballs on parchment-lined sheet pans.

Add the meatballs to the simmering sauce, and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is flavorful, about 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure the meatballs on the bottom don’t stick.

This makes a big batch, and can easily be kept in the refrigerator or frozen for future meals. If you don’t want to make such a big batch, you can easily halve everything.

  • December 7, 2015