The Best (EVER) Meatballs & Red Sauce

meatballsNo one’s perfect.

Not. even. me.

Cooking can be tricky, and even the easiest dishes can make their way onto a plate too spicy, maybe a tad (or WAY) too salty and sometimes seasoned with what you thought was basil but turned out to be mint.

Rewind about 12 years, when Sweetie and The Kitchen was 16-year-old Maggie and her Mom’s Kitchen.  Specifically the freezer.  Where my Mom would store individually portioned Tupperware containers of green chile chicken enchiladas, meatloafs, green chile stew and for the sake of this story, lasagna.

Who needs an apron when you've got this early 90's style?

Let me start by saying that while my Mother was no Suzy Homemaker, she did keep a home.  A good one too.  My sister, cousins and I like to joke around about how my Mom never had food in the house, but the truth is, she just didn’t keep cookies, chips, processed frozen dinners and other quick snacks, in all their hydrogenated glory, around.

There was food.  But it was usually food that involved preparing, and to a 16-year-old, well that was just far too much effort.  I have 10 friends I needed to call, talking to each one for no less than 30 minutes each, to discuss really important world events and stuff like, say, how to use my new pager to say I love u (17 31707 1).

But luckily for me there was those pre-packaged leftovers in the freezer.   My Mom exchanged her apron for a briefcase years ago but many weekends you could still find her in the kitchen making food for the week.  Meals that would be portioned, secured in small Tupperwares and frozen.

One summer I grabbed one of those to-go Tupperwares from the freezer and stuck it in my lunch pack before heading off to my summer job as a lifeguard.

A few hours later, after sitting out in the hot blazing sun, watching kids splash around the Beach Waterpark, I went into the break room popped my lunch in the microwave… looking forward to the delicious cheesy saucy lasagna I had seen my Mom preparing that weekend.

I took a bite and realized something didn’t quite taste right… there was a spice… that didn’t quite belong.  What was it?  Mind you, at 16 my favorite restaurant was Chile’s, so let’s just say my palate was pretty undeveloped.

It kind of tasted like gum… not Bubblegum or Icebreakers… but like Trident.  The Trident flavor my Grandma Martha Ann always had on hand… was it… mint?

Mint on Foodista

It was.

And truth be told, I don’t even know if it actually tasted bad or if my vanilla-self just decided to think it was gross because in my opinion mint did not belong in lasagna.

In any event my poor Mother has had to hear about the time she “put mint in lasagna” for 12 long years.   She apparently had intended to use basil from her herb garden, but grabbed the mint instead.

Either way, for me, the joke about the famous mint lasagna, is over.

It ended a week and a half ago when I put, take a wild guess…


I put mint in meatballs. On purpose.


It. Was. Delicious.

Actually, let me clarify.

They were AMAZING.

I found the recipe in a food blog I find myself copying more and more lately… Can You Stay for Dinner?

While the writer boasts about how delectable these little precious balls of meat are… it wasn’t necessarily her rave reviews or even the blog’s title (“My Favorite Meatballs”) that caught my eye.

It was one specific ingredient.

2 1/2 teaspoons of dried mint.

I had to make them.

My New Favorite Meatballs & Red Sauce
Adapted from Can You Stay For Dinner?

Red Sauce Ingredients
Back to that no one’s perfect thing… I added WAY too much Salt and had to go to all sorts of bizarre lengths that involved adding wine, sugar, water, fresh tomatoes etc… to get the saltiness down… don’t make my mistake. Stick to the amount of salt listed here, you can always add more down the road. Trust me on this one.

  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28oz can crushed or ground, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt (that’s ONE TEASPOON)
  • 1 tsp pepper

For the most amazing meatballs you’ve ever tasted

  • 1 lb ground beef (80-85% lean)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c. panko whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 2 ½ tsp dried mint
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

So first let’s make the sauce… you didn’t add too much salt right?

red sauce
best red sauce ever

In a large pot add canola & olive oil to coat bottom over medium heat.

Add onions and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on them in case they start to burn, if they do lower the heat.

According to CYSFD the more color that develops on the onions and garlic, the more flavor they’ll add the sauce.

Once onions and garlic are tender and fragrant add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and combine, mixing till smooth.

From there you can add everything else (oregano through pepper).  Combine well and bring sauce to a simmer.

Set heat to low, cover and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Watch so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Now let’s get to those meatballs, correction, those soon to be amazing most delicious EVER meatballs.

best ever meatballs

Add beef to a large mixing bowl.

In small bowl lightly beat egg and then pour over beef.

Add everything else (mint through pepper) and use hands to massage ingredients into meat, eventually forming a large ball.

CYSFD warns not to overwork beef as you will end up with tough meatballs.

Do your best to shape meat into about 15 1″ balls… somehow I ended up with 19 balls.

Remember I’m not one for symmetry.

meatball_galleryCarefully drop meatballs into sauce and stir gently so sauce covers each one.

Now cover the pot and let those tasty balls of meat cook over low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Stirring occasionally.

Now, provided you didn’t make the same mistake I did and add a pound and a half of salt (not really) you can wipe your hands, get your table set and call in Sweets for dinner.


Remember, cooking can be hard and cooking for other people and their opinions can be a pain in the ass.  Sometimes we’re cooking while at the same time playing on Facebook, washing dishes, paying bills or being a full time Mom.   Mistakes happen, whether we add too much salt or mistake basil for mint.  It happens.  Give the cooks a break.

And Mom, I’m sorry for  giving you grief over the last 12 years about putting the mint in the lasagna, but more importantly, thank you for making it.  Maybe you weren’t in your apron and heels baking cookies when we got home from school, but one way or another you always had dinner on the table, and not dinner from a bag either, but actual real food.

And this 28-year-old Maggie thinks that’s pretty awesome.

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