If you were to pick a president and el tigre numero uno of the ragù world, it'd be ragù Napoletano, a meaty stew with big chunks of beef, pork, and sausages simmered until fall-apart tender in a rich tomato sauce flavored with wine, onions, garlic, basil, and plenty of good Southern Italian olive oil. It's the precursor to Italian-American Sunday gravy: just add some meatballs, serve it with spaghetti, and you're there. It's also the perfect dish for a lazy Sunday with family or friends at home.
'Italian-American' on Serious Eats
Tender Italian-American meatballs made with beef and pork and flavored with garlic, buttermilk, and Parmesan cheese in a meaty, slow-cooked sauce. Your slow-cooker takes care of the tomato sauce, reducing it into a rich, meaty gravy.
The perfect meatball sandwich first needs perfect meatballs and great sauce. Once you have those two in place, the rest is a matter of construction and detail. Here's how we like to build ours.
Growing up in New York, I'd never eaten a meatball pizza. Pizza is for eating out, meatballs are home cooking. It wasn't until I tasted the meatball pizza at Motorino and then at Best Pizza in Williamsburg that I discovered how great the idea is. It's two Italian-American favorites, all rolled into one spectacularly comforting dish. But like all mashups, there's a bit of finesse to getting it right. Here's how I make mine.
What is the perfect meatball? For me, it's a plump, juicy ball of highly seasoned meat that's so tender a spoon can pass right through it with almost no resistance. Here's how I make that a reality.
Scarred by childhood memories of dry, tasteless rice balls, I set out to create arancini the way we all want them to be: crisp on the outside with a shattering crust that breaks open to reveal tender grains of rice suspended in a rich and flavorful creamy sauce. At at the center: stretchy melted mozzarella cheese.
To make the best chicken Parm sandwich, just start with the best chicken Parmesan. Our version uses a buttermilk brine for extra juiciness and flavor. We take the leftovers and pack them into a full-sized loaf of toasted ciabatta, adding some extra sauce and cheese to keep the bread moist before cutting it up into single serving slices. This is a chicken Parm sandwich so good it's almost worth making the chicken Parm fresh just for the sandwich.
To get the most flavor in this shrimp scampi, we use vermouth instead of white wine, and a mix of fragrant herbs—parsley, tarragon, and chives—instead of just parsley. The silky butter sauce, meanwhile, is brightened with a splash of fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon zest. It's a quick, easy, one-pot Italian-American classic with just enough extra flavor and flair to make it special.
A sacred Italian-American institution, Sunday gravy is a meat-forward, all-day-simmered dish with as many recipes as there are Italian families who make it. My version incorporates flank steak braciole, Italian sausage, tender meatballs, and pork ribs along with onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, all simmered together in a rich red sauce.
Even at its worst, classic Italian-American chicken parmesan is pretty darn good. So how do you go about perfecting it? Our recipe has a buttermilk-based brine for maximum juiciness and tenderness. Tons of Parmesan cheese in our breading—along with a small drizzle of buttermilk— improves its flavor and texture. Our sauce is a slow-cooked, rich red sauce, and a mixture of fresh mozzarella and real Parmigiano-Reggiano top it off.
This is, in some ways, a classic meatless baked ziti, loaded with pools of cheese and rich tomato sauce. But it gets rid of the one thing that can often make baked ziti less than great: grainy ricotta cheese. Instead, we drizzle it with an over-the-top Parmesan cream. Trust us, you won't miss the ricotta.
Homemade Italian sausage is formed into patties and stuffed with nuggets of mozzarella cheese. Then, the burgers are heavily pepper-crusted on the rims and finished with a dollop of creamy ricotta, red sauce, and fresh basil. Perhaps best of all, though, is the garnish of vinegar peppers that roast in the oven (or, alternately, cook in a tin right on the grill).
Beefaroni, macaroni and beef, chili mac, Johnny Marzetti, or American chop suey, call it what you will, but whatever its origins, there's one thing for sure: the stuff is delicious. Tender pasta with a rich tomato and beef sauce flavored with garlic and oregano, cooked together with onions and peppers, and finished with cheese, this is Italian-American comfort food at its finest. Not only that, but it's a ridiculously easy dish to put together, cooked 100% on the stovetop, and requiring nothing more than a pot, a bowl, and about half an hour of your time.
There are times when you can stand over the stove all day, slowly cooking that red sauce down. Then there are times when you need to put dinner on the table in under an hour. For those moments when convenience trumps patience, this is the red sauce to turn to. Simmered with plenty of garlic, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, and basil, this sauce can be whipped up in no time but still has that deep, rich, long-cooked flavor.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not a health nut or calorie counter. But let's face it: the feeling you get after downing a bowl of creamy, cheesy Fettuccine Alfredo ain't the best. Wouldn't it be great to have a quick and easy version that has all the flavor of the cream-packed original, but with a cleaner flavor that doesn't leave you in a food coma?
This rich and hearty red sauce tastes like it's been cooked for hours, because it has. The secret to rich, naturally sweet, complex flavors is to cook the sauce in the oven, allowing the surface to brown while the sauce slowly concentrates. The resultant sauce is great on pasta, with meatballs, on your chicken parm, or scooped right out of the pan with a spoon on its own.
So many readers asked for my husband Joe Cleffie's meatball recipe that we had to oblige. With a few small tweaks made for foolproofing and streamlining, we're proud to present it here. This isn't the most complicated meatball recipe around—quite the opposite in fact. Our goal here is a recipe that anyone can make, no practice required, and get great results out of. I hope it inspires a thousand dinners in communities worldwide.
A base of roasted red pepper cream sauce swaths pre-cooked, medium-sized pasta shells. I like the sauce smooth and silky, so I purée the roasted pepper mixture before adding a combination of heavy cream and half-and-half, along with three cheeses: ricotta, Fontina, and Asiago. Italian sausage, garlic, and onions, boost the sauce with extra flavor.
Note: You must use a scale for this sausage. There is no way to accurately estimate the amount of salt needed otherwise. This recipe can be made with pre-ground pork as well. Mix ingredients as directed in step one, allow...
This tasted like a more complex, more delicious chicken parm. All the classic flavors were there—tomato sauce, cheese, chicken—but done in a more sophisticated way. The provolone was creamy with a little sharpness, the prosciutto nice and salty, and the chicken tender and juicy. When mixed with some marinara and basil, it had everything that makes a really plate-lickin' Italian-American meal.