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Uncle Richard’s Meatballs and Sauce!

September 19, 2018
edited Uncle Richard in sauce stained apron

Uncle Richard and his son, Rich, in their fully equipped basement kitchen – because what’s an Italian home without two kitchens?

Today is my Uncle Richard’s 89th Birthday.  To honor him, I’m posting my most prized possession, my video of him showing me how to make meatballs and sauce. (It’s at the end of this post.) It was the highlight of my year!

Most people’s bucket lists are filled with things like: Stay in a Scottish castle, or dance in the sand in Greece. But at the top of my list has always been: Cook with Uncle Richard and learn the secret to his meatballs and sauce. The opportunity has eluded me for years, but every time I’d visit Pennsylvania, I went in hope it would happen.

To understand why, you have to know this man.  He is spry, sweet and sarcastic, with a wacky streak I love!

The way he rolls his eyes when I walk in the door and says, “Oh God, look what the damned cat dragged in,” is his way of saying, “I’m happy to see you.” Then he wraps me in a tight hug and we end up sitting at his dining room table drinking wine and eating home made Sopressata with chunks of sharp cheese while he tells me stories.  Aunt Blanche used to hover in the kitchen, constantly putting food on the table, and never sitting.  Now, sometimes she sits with us, but because her eyesight’s bad and she’s very deaf, she interrupts a lot without realizing it. She’s adorable though. And because Uncle Richard is her hairdresser now, her hair was an interesting shade of purple when I saw her last. God bless them both.

I love hearing my uncle’s stories about growing up in Italy during World War II. He tells the remarkable story of  how he blew two fingers and part of his thumb off playing with a bomb someone found and kept after the war. (You’ll see it hasn’t stopped him at all!) He has dozens of stories and remembers details like it was yesterday.

He is a wonder, with more energy at 89 than people half his age. And he is still a fabulous cook, but when I’m home I’m always so busy visiting people, I’m never able to make the time to cook with him and learn his secrets. You have to cook alongside him to learn, because he says he doesn’t use a recipe. And, if you’ve spent any time with Italians, you know, none of them measure. I don’t even measure, but I force myself to for this blog!

meatball and sauce on bread.jpg

Uncle Richard’s meatball

Every time I’d ask how he makes his sauce or his meatballs, he’d emphatically reply, “I DON’T HAVE A RECIPE, I JUST MAKE IT!”

But I got lucky over Labor Day weekend. I knew he was making pasta for a party my brother was throwing. I couldn’t wait, I called him within an hour of my arrival, to ask if I could finally be his sauce apprentice. He said he’d be cooking on Sunday and he’d call me when it was time to come over.

Finally circumstances came together perfectly and I was going to get the chance I’d waited for, for decades! The Holy Grail of sauce was near.

I didn’t hear from him Sunday morning, so I called at 10 a.m., hoping he hadn’t started. When he said he wanted to begin soon, I said, “I’m not showering, I’m coming right over!”

“I don’t want you stinking up my kitchen!’ he said, “Go take a shower, I have to take one too.”

When I arrived, we started in his garden with beautiful, fresh tomatoes that were red and gigantic. He said his neighbors were eyeing them, but he told them he was saving them for me.

We picked tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh parsley, and fresh rosemary. We put the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water to loosen their skins and make the sauce.  Then we rinsed the herbs, dried them, and added them to some chopped garlic in a food processor. Then he handed me two slices of Italian bread that he wet with water, then squeezed.

It was only then I realized he was letting me in on the meatball recipe too, I could hardly contain myself. (I know, I need to get a life.)

Once the herbs, garlic and bread were processed together, I scraped them into a bowl with about two pounds of beef, two pounds of pork and a few Italian sausages he said he’d had in the freezer for 17 years. (Let’s hope he was kidding.) He mixed them together, added a dash Worchestershire sauce, a dash of hot sauce, two eggs, some breadcrumbs, a sprinkling of cheese, some salt and pepper.

How much of any of this? Well, I’m going to approximate, but if you can eyeball it from the video or photos, better than my guess, more power to you.  I tried to get it all on videotape, but my battery kept running out. I think I deleted 10 apps just to get as much as I did.

jars of tomatoesThen came his sauce, which is so good, and so simple. (It helps if you have beautiful fresh herbs and  tomatoes growing in your yard and recently canned about 8 million jars of them.) He canned all the tomatoes you see here himself.

The video only gets most of the meatball action, I didn’t get to show our meatball taste test, or how he rolls the meatballs in wine, then flour, then fries them.  And while I was rolling the meatballs in wine and flour, he started on the sauce, so I couldn’t tape it all, but I did my best. If you’re wondering who the woman in the video is, she’s my cousin, Nancy.

When it comes to special people in my life, Uncle Richard, or Zio Riziero is one of my absolute favorites. The My Sauce is Better Than Yours apron is really perfect for him, but was inspired by my mom and the six simple words that can end your life story .

His sauce is simple, creamy (because the meatballs rolled in flour are cooked in it) and just wonderful. I can’t believe I actually got to cook with him and he’s finally sharing his elusive recipes. I am a firm believer that moments like this are to be treasured. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do. Here is the video:


Happy Birthday Uncle Richard. I wish you many more years filled with the good health you enjoy today. Cent’anni!

Uncle Richard’s Meatballs (WOO HOO, I can’t believe I’m writing this!)

4 cloves of garliccropped meatball ingredients with bread.jpg

1/3 cup fresh basil

1/4 cup fresh parsley

1 sprig of  fresh rosemary finely chopped

2 slices of white bread (soaked in water or milk then squeezed.

1 tsp Worchestershire Sauce

1 Tsp. Hot sauce

1 Tsp. of pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

3/4 cup of Italian style bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated cheese

2 eggspork cooking

2 lbs. ground beef

2 lbs of ground pork

2 sausage links (remove casing)

1 glass of red wine (cabernet or merlot is fine)

1 cup flour

2 to 3 cups of canola oil

2 to 3 large pork neck bones or pork ribs

Mix together the basil, parsley, garlic, and rosemary in a food processor. Then add the soaked, drained bread and process until combined.  Next, mix together the three meats and add the bread mixture. Then add the hot sauce, the Worchestershire sauce, the bread crumbs, the salt, pepper, cheese and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Then take a small piece and fry it in some oil in a pan, so you can taste it and see what it needs.

meatball in flourIf they’re good, start rolling them. Then roll the meatballs in the red wine, then in the flour. Set them aside until you’re ready to fry them (I think he used canola oil, for the frying, but I’m not sure. (I’ll get back to you on that.) Then add them to the pasta sauce and cook them about an hour and a half over low to medium heat, making sure the sauce doesn’t burn on the bottom. (I always use a trivet.)

Uncle Richard’s Pasta Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 4 garlic cloves finely chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh basil finely chopped

1Tbsp.  fresh parsley finely chopped

2 large fresh tomatoes peeled and crushed

2 large bottles of homemade canned tomato sauce

OR: 3 to 4  large cans Cento Pomodori Pelati with the seeds removed (or not)

Or 3 to 4 cans Cento tomato puree

If you don’t have homemade, Cento Pomodori Pelati (peeled tomatoes) are pretty good, but you have to process them in a blender before adding them (I remove the seeds, but it’s not necessary) .  If you can find Cento tomato puree, that works too.

Pour the olive oil in a large, deep pan and saute the garlic and herbs for a minute, then add the whole tomatoes, pulverizing them with a masher. Add the herbs and let the mixture cook down until some of the water boils off. Then add the canned sauce and stir to combine. Then fry the meatballs and add them. Then fry the pork and add it. Let it all cook together for about an hour and a half.






  • Reply
    Julia Shure
    November 5, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Fran, I made this yesterday and it was great! With all of the terrible events happening in our country recently, the anxiety over tomorrow’s election, plus my niece had some serious health issues – we needed some comfort food. My sister- and brother-in-law loved it, and they are major foodies (Bradley wins competitions for his BBQ). Thanks so much for sharing your uncle’s recipe.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      November 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      I am so happy to hear this Julia, you have no idea! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. My uncle will be thrilled you loved his meatballs!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Please book your ticket to Pittsburgh so we have a better denouement. Uncle Richard is TOO wonderful! Reminds of my Italian step-family–now I know why I seldom use a recipe.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      November 5, 2018 at 2:03 pm

      I almost booked a flight last night, then decided I should save my $$. Now, I’m re-thinking it again!

  • Reply
    Dawn Wilkins
    September 19, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Buonissimo! even as a vegetarian i loved this… just wonderful. The joys of life!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      Thank you darling! Coming from you that means a lot! So nice having you on the western part of the world, where people stay up late!

  • Reply
    Jerry Kitchel
    September 19, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Loved watching the video; what an awesome Uncle. It’s obvious he loves you, Frannie, and he loves good cookin’, too! Perfect combo, I’d say. I’m totally inspired to give this meatball technique a whirl.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      Thank you Jerry. It was honestly so much fun for me. He is adorable. That house has been in my life since I was born. It’s a little piece of my history and I feel so lucky to have my uncle and aunt still in my life, especially with my parents gone. Let me know how the meatballs turn out!

  • Reply
    September 19, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    I love this! After just coming back from Italy, I am ready to go back already after watching your uncle! God bless him! Happy Birthday to him!!!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks Marianne. He is such fun and truly a sweetheart. I know, being around him makes me want to go to Italy and see the whole family! So glad your trip was great. I can’t wait to see all the photos!

  • Reply
    Charles Burkett
    September 19, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you Fran. Can’t wait to make them both.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      Awww Chuck, too bad you don’t live in California, I’d cook with you.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Wish I had a Tio to teach me these tricks. What fun for you. I’ll try the addition of the pork bones to the sauce. Intriguing! Loved the video!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks Theresa. I have to tell you, pork bones in pasta sauce make a huge difference. You are going to like it.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Very entertaining… Thanks.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:11 pm

      Thank you Davey. Glad you enjoyed it! Maybe we’ll start a resurgence in the popularity of meatballs.

  • Reply
    Julia Shure
    September 19, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Fran, what a treasure!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Awww thanks Julia. I know, I feel very lucky to have him in my life, he’s so much fun.

  • Reply
    EmilyAnn Frances
    September 19, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Fran, there is a lot of love mixed with the humor. This posting is from the heart.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      It definitely is Emily. Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to comment!

  • Reply
    September 19, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Just perfect Fran!!! What a beautiful day to spend with your uncle. Thank you for sharing him and the secrets with us! I want to come home with you next time!!!!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      September 19, 2018 at 9:08 pm

      I would love to take you home, and they would adopt you as a Tunno for sure! Thanks Nicol, it was pretty sweet.

  • Reply
    Fran Tunno
    September 19, 2018 at 7:57 am

    They were in there. I know, my battery died! I was so sad because my charger stopped working that day too. I guess I’ll have to get it next time. Gives me something to look forward to!

  • Reply
    Chas Madonio
    September 19, 2018 at 7:56 am

    I loved the addition of the video. Uncle Richard seems like the quintessential old Italian uncle – he’s quite the guy. My only complaint is we didn’t get to see the finished product with the meatballs in the sauce.

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