Hot From The Kettle: Meatballs in Sunday Gravy with Johnny Meatballs

Last week, the Meatball King of New Jersey, Johnny “Meatballs” DeCarlo,  visited the Kettle Kitchen to teach us the secret to his famous meatballs.

Between you, me and the blogosphere, the secret is: caramelized onions.  I didn’t grow up with  caramelized onions in my meatballs, but after enjoying a couple, it’s a pretty good idea.

If you’re in the mood for some meatballs,  you could pick up a six pack of Johnny’s Meatballs in Sunday Gravy at Corrado’s.  Or, if you’d like to make them yourself, watch the video to see how Johnny does it and follow the recipe below.  Salute!



1. Sauté an onion

Every Sunday, I make thirteen meatballs out of about a pound and a half of meat (a dozen and then one extra to make it thirteen, which is actually a lucky number for us Italians). So first things first, I caramelize an onion—which is what makes my meatballs so special! Dice and then lightly sauté it in a pan of olive oil and butter for about twenty-five minutes. After the first five minutes, sprinkle some sugar and salt on top, give a nice stir and cover the pan. Let it get nice and golden brown and then turn off the flame.

2. Start mixing

In a large bowl, combine your meatball mix which is veal, pork and beef (the “Trinity”), along with three eggs, ½ cup of breadcrumbs, ½ cup of grated cheese, a splash of heavy cream and about two tablespoons of minced garlic. Then, I add in three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a nice handful of chopped fresh basil leaves (“basi-nee-gole”), two tablespoons of tomato paste, the onion (when it’s fully cooled off) and my “Special 10-Spice Blend” (sea salt, cracked pepper, parsley, oregano, red chili flakes and five other carefully selected spices.) Mix everything up—with your hands of course—and then roll the mix into balls!

3. Fry your balls

Drizzle a hearty glug of olive oil into a pan. Fry the meatballs until they turn brown on both sides (cook about 80 percent through, they will finish in the gravy pot the rest of the way).

4. Meat infusion – making the gravy!

Drizzle a hearty glug of olive oil into a deep pot and once it’s hot, add in two packages of “gravy meat” and this is two sausage links—casings removed, two bracioles, two pieces of pork. Allow the meat to sit in the pot for about twenty minutes until slightly browned. Remove the meat and deglaze the pan by frying a little bit of tomato paste in the oil.

5. Add your tomatoes!

Pour in one 14 oz. can of Italian style stewed tomatoes. Follow that by adding in two 28 oz. cans of New Jersey grown crushed tomatoes, a few spoonfuls of diced garlic, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a splash of vino and a sprinkling of JM’s Spice Blend. Next, pour in two 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes. Repeat the garlic/balsamic/vino/spice blend steps here. I love the combination of the imported Italian, the California and the Jersey tomatoes. Finally, shove the meatballs and all the other meats back in at this point. Give a nice stir about every twenty minutes, cooking on a medium flame for a minimum of two hours. In the last five minutes, sprinkle some torn-up basil leaves on top and stir one last time before turning off the flame.

6. Put the water on!

This is the most basic part, you boil up a pot of water, get it nice and salty and then you add in the macaroni of your choice (Star Ravioli are usually my choice). Get it to al dente, which is not too soft, not too hard. Then, what I do is I serve the macaroni with the gravy on top with a gravy boat on the side to add more on your own. Mangia!!! PS- Don’t forget the crusty bread and vino!!

-Johnny “Meatballs” DeCarlo

Johnny’s new book, titled, My Big Friggin’ Book, will be released May 11th and is filled with recipes and stories of “growing up Jersey Italian.” To pre-order, click here.

And keep an eye out for Johnny Meatballs On A Roll, the first ever meatball cart.  And for Part Two, filled with more shameless meatball double entendres, click here.

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  1. And, upon penalty of ostracismo, do not ever order spaghetti and meatballs (or any other kind of pasta and polpette on the same plate) in Italy. Order the meatballs on their own as a secondi, or in a soup or broth (usually smaller meatballs, polpettine).

    Good luck to Johnny with his upcoming book and cart — a good Meatball Wedge (as they are called in my part of the Northern Bronx) is a thing of both beauty and joy (especially to dry cleaners), and I would gladly partake of one if he would park his cart maybe at Montclair Farmer’s Market some Saturday noon?

  2. You are nothing if not a pleasant character, Conan. One of these days I’m going to buy you a martini. (Have you ever ordered one at the bar at Highlawn Pavilion? I did, and afterwards needed a gurney to make it to the parking lot.)

  3. Hi Melody – In the recipe he calls for “grated cheese” What kind of grated cheese? Reggiano? Romano? I know either would be fine but I would like to know what he uses specifically. THANKS!!!

    PS I admit I did not watch the video yet as I don’t have time right now…sorry if the specific cheese is already mentioned in it!!! 🙂

  4. Roosky, why, yes, I have had the privilege of sipping a martinus or eleven at the Highlawn Pavillion, but I am told they taste much better when someone else is buying. Guess we will have to ask the Baristas to throw another shindig, although the idea of coming out of anonymity does distress me somewhat… Baristas? Martinis at the Highlawn, anyone?

  5. Well then, the bar at the Highlawn it is. I will have my people contact your people and we can arrange a schedule. You still living under Liz’s porch, ‘roo. Or have you already come out of … hibernation?

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