Clemenza’s Pasta Recipe – Herbed Meatballs – The Godfather

I love The Godfather.  It’s one of those movies that whenever it’s on, I’ll switch to that channel and watch it through to the end (yes, even though I own it on DVD). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it.  Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, and of course Shawshank are on that list as well. So good.

Do you remember when Clemenza was teaching Michael how to make pasta sauce (or if you’re from Jersey, spaghetti gravy)?  Maybe this will jog your memory:

“Hey, come over here kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs, eh? Add a little bit a wine… and a little bit a sugar… and that’s my trick.”
– Peter Clemenza, The Godfather

Ah Clemenza, you fat, lovable, cannoli-loving mafioso.

Anyway, here’s my rendition of Clemenza’s sauce.  You’ll find many different versions out there on the internet machine, but I really think that this is a recipe you can’t refuse.

Let’s start with the sauce.  It’s pretty similar to the tomato soup recipe I just posted, but this time we’re gonna start with some pancetta:

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The next steps are pretty similar to the tomato soup recipe from a a few weeks ago… but let’s review:

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1. Render the fat outta the pancetta, then remove, saving it for later.
2. Remove some of the fat, leaving about 2-3 tbsp, then add 2 tbsp of butter, melt.
3. Fry your garlic, your onions, your bundle of thyme sprigs.
4. Add the tomato paste, and as Clemenza said, make sure it doesn’t stick!
5. Add a little bit of wine.
6. Toss in your tomatoes, some chicken broth.

Clemenza’s trick: the teaspoon of sugar

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And here’s a trick from goodwilltasting: the parmesan rind.

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You’ll remember these next steps if you’re a faithful GWT reader:

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1. Remove the parmesan rind and thyme sprigs
2. Turn off heat
3. Immersion blend (or puree in batches in a blender)
4. Add the pancetta back to the sauce, wise guy!

And that’s it, that’s the sauce. Believe me it is incredible.

Now for the meatballs, bambinos. Start with the bread crumbs.  I had some stale bread so I made my own, but you can definitely just buy them from the market.

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Add some milk to the bread crumbs, let it get mushy.

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If you don’t know what loosely packed means, this here is loosely packed:

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Just lay the leaves in there, don’t stuff the cup, when you fill the measuring cup you’re done.

Next we bring out our good ol’ food processor for the onions, garlic, and herbs. Chop it good. And spend time with your family. A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

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Okay here we go with the assembly. Basically just combine all the ingredients together in a big bowl, and don’t forget the cup of fresh grated parmesan. BE A MAN. USE YOUR HANDS.

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Now we make the balls. Here’s a tip, wet your hands with water so the meat doesn’t stick to your hands and so you can get perfectly round meatballs. I make them about 1-1.5″ in diameter.

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Okay here’s where it gets a little tricky: when you fry them, make sure you have enough space between them so you can roll them around and they don’t stick together.

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Once they get a nice brown on the bottom, start rolling them all slowly in one direction, then leave them to cook, until they get browned all over. I’m going clockwise because I assume that’s how the Corleones’ do it.

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Once browned on all sides, place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 more minutes to complete cooking.

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Cook your sausage however you want. I just fried em up.

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Shove in all your sausage and meatballs. Notice I took some of the sauce out. I’m doing this because I want to freeze some for later. Yes I’m freezing half the meatballs too.

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Boil your spaghetti per the package directions, combine with sauce, top with some parmesan, and you’ll be part of the family.

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Now that’s gangsta.

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TOMATO SAUCE
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 oz cubed pancetta (2 tbsp grease)
2 tbsp tomato paste
8-10 sprigs thyme, tied together tightly with butcher’s twine
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsp butter
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 parmesan rind

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat, add the pancetta and brown until most of the fat has rendered out. Remove pancetta and save for later, discard all but 2 tbsp of the pancetta grease. Add 2 tbsp of butter, then add onion, garlic, and thyme, and saute until the onion becomes translucent but not brown, 6-7 minutes. Add your tomato paste and brown for 3-4 minutes. Deglaze the pot with red wine, then add your tomatoes, stock, and water.

Now for Clemenza’s trick: add 1 tsp of sugar. And goodwilltasting’s trick: add 1 parmesan rind

Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Sauce should be reduced by about 20%. Remove from heat.

Remove parmesan rind and thyme sprigs. Using an immersion blender, blend up sauce until smooth.  You can also puree sauce in batches in a blender or food processor. Add pancetta back to the sauce. That’s it!

HERBED MEATBALLS
1 lb ground beef (I used 85/15 ground beef)
1 lb lean ground pork
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano 
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil (see picture above)
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
2 large eggs
salt and pepper

If making your own bread crumbs, make sure you let the bread sit out overnight and dry completely, or you can put it in the oven at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes to dry. Pulse in the food processor until crumbs are even size. Add the milk to the bread crumbs and let it soak for 5 minutes.

Place onions, garlic, basil, parsley, and thyme in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (see picture above).  Add this chopped mixture to the beef and pork in a large bowl, as well as your parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Squeeze out any excess milk from the bread crumbs and add to the bowl. Add the eggs and, using your hands, combine all ingredients until they are all well-incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Take the meat mixture out, wet your hands, and start rolling the mixture into 1.5″ diameter balls. When you have all your meatballs formed, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add enough olive oil to the skillet to get a thin coating over the surface, and start frying your meatballs. Make sure you have enough space between them so you can roll them around.  Once they get browned on the bottom (about 2-3 minutes), roll them slightly just until the next portion of raw meat on the meatball is in contact with the cooking surface. Continue rolling the balls around until it is browned all around.

Place your browned meatballs on a cookie sheet, bake for about 10-15 minutes until they are cooked through. Makes about 45 1-1.5″ meatballs

ASSEMBLY:

Fry up some hot italian sausage in the skillet, cut into slices, and add the sausage and meatballs to your tomato sauce. Simmer for another 15 minutes so all the flavors incorporate.

Meanwhile, boil your spaghetti according to the package directions until JUST al dente, or even a little bit undercooked. If you’re pro, add a ladle full of pasta cooking water to your tomato sauce, (this will make your sauce even more velvety). Drain pasta and return the spaghetti to the pot. Add your sauce and mix well over low heat. The spaghetti will continue to cook in the sauce and really absorb the flavor.

Serve with grated parmesan.

Beer pairing recommendation: Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. Spicy, peppery, fruity notes complement this bold, sweet sauce and herby meatballs.

I’ll leave you with these words from Clemenza: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” 

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3 thoughts on “Clemenza’s Pasta Recipe – Herbed Meatballs – The Godfather

  1. DK says:

    Looks amazing! One trick I use for my meatballs is to mix in about 30-40% ricotta cheese as well as grated pecorino. Ricotta lightens texture and mouthfeel. Pecorino adds some salty ummami. If you’re dangerous, add some gooey tallegio to the middle of the meatball. My wine pairing would be a nice Montepulciano.

    • Thanks for the note, I actually did put a cup of parmesan in my meatballs but forgot to put it in the recipe, so nice catch! I have corrected it. Next time I’ll try the pecorino, and I think I’ll maybe cut out half the breadcrumbs and try your ricotta trick.

  2. […] Homemade Blood-Red Beet Pasta and Clemenza’s Pasta Sauce with Herbed Meatballs […]

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