No matter what large city you may be in there are always iconic places that you know of that can be great to dine at. New York City is chockful of places like this and if you are a lover of Italian food, Rao’s is a place you likely know of and would love to visit. If you have ever had the good fortune of dining there yourself you are among the very lucky. Rao’s is well-known for being the toughest reservation to get in New York City, not only because they have a highly-regarded menu but simply because they have very few tables to go around and a pretty regular clientele that takes them. Just because you can’t sit at a table at Rao’s doesn’t mean you can’t take the opportunity to enjoy one of their Italian classics, such as meatballs with their famous red sauce. The recipe, from the New York Times, provides you the opportunity to make this signature dish on your own, saving you time, money and frustration.
Rao’s Meatballs with Marinara Sauce
For the Sauce:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces salt pork, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans imported Italian crushed tomatoes
6 leaves fresh basil, torn into small pieces
Pinch of dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper
For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground lean beef
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, lightly smashed
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan set over medium-low heat, then add the salt pork. Sauté the pork until the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the salt pork. Add the onion and sauté it until it is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté it just until it is softened. Add the tomatoes with their juice and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 45 minutes. Add the basil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce for 1 minute more.
To make the meatballs, in a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, veal and pork. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley and minced garlic, then salt and pepper as desired. Add the bread crumbs and mix everything well. Slowly add up to 2 cups water, 1/2 cup at a time, until the mixture is moist; all the water may not be needed. Shape the mixture into 1 1/2 -inch meatballs.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and sauté it until it is lightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes, then discard the garlic. Working in batches and taking care not to crowd the pan, add meatballs and fry them until the undersides are brown and slightly crisp, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn and brown the other sides of the meatballs, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the cooked meatballs to paper towels to drain, and then add them to the marinara sauce. Mix the sauce and meatballs gently and serve.
This recipe is very simple and I have found that really great-tasting, classic Italian dishes are often this way. They don’t need to use a lot of complicated methods or fancy ingredients; they stick to basics and offer great flavor. You can use a basic meatloaf mix to make the meatballs for the mixture of fat and flavor they go for or stick to your own and just use basic ground beef if you like, but if you are trying to imitate the flavor of a Rao’s meal to try it out, I would try to stick to as close of the recipe as you can to see if it is something you enjoy. I did go the extra mile and purchased the more expensive San Marzano tomatoes for this recipe to see if it made a difference over what I traditionally used. The sauce was very tasty, allowing the basic tomato flavor to shine through with nice fresh basil adding to it. The meatballs also were very simple but had good taste to them as well. All you need after that is some pasta, nice crunchy bread, a good bottle of wine and some great mood lighting and you can recreate your own Rao’s experience in your dining room or kitchen. It is an easy enough recipe to make it part of your meal rotation.
That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!