Yes, it's truly a cliché, but I love a good culinary cliche, when it's well made.
Recently I was browsing through Jack Denton Scott and Maria Luisa Scott's classic work, The Complete Book of Pasta (William Morrow & Company, 1968), with photographs; not of food, but of Italy; by Samuel Chamberlain).
I found the recipe for Polpettone, or a giant meatball. In reality, it's a rounded meatloaf, browned in olive oil, then braised in tomato sauce in the oven. There are some chopped raisins in the recipe. Use them, they are hardly noticeable but add a special touch.
When I went to make it, I was challenged by how to turn the thing, so I compromised, and turned 3 pounds of ground beef and pork, and other ingredients into some 15 to 18 large, but not gigantic meatballs. Each weighed about 5 or 6 ounces.
For the recipe, I merged the one in the book with another I found at About.com.
The management of all this was somewhat complex. I first made a large batch of basil tomato sauce. I then mixed, formed and browned the meatballs. I used our largest roasting pan, sprayed with Pam, and a layer of sauce, then the browned meatballs. I covered the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil (do not let the foil touch the sauce) and baked them about 1 hour at 350º F. I later slowly reheated them, with more tomato sauce, for an hour and a half, before serving to our 4 delighted guests.
To start our meal, we had three antipasti: lighly marinated cooked carrot sticks, roasted sweet peppers with anchovies and capers, and plus a large mixed green salad brought by our guest, B.
Alongside the large bowl of steaming meatballs and spaghetti was a dish of sauteed spinach and Italian mustard greens. Warm "French bread" from a local supermarket bakery. (Oh, well. It was o.k.)
We ended the meal with a really good apple pie, made by G. and ice cream, made by Holanda and coffee, brewed by me.
Here's a recipe for a really good Basil Tomato Sauce. It's simple and quick. You will need fresh basil. This comes from "The Classic Italian Cookbook", by Marcella Hazan, with my comments.
Fresh Basil and Tomato Sauce
For 4 persons. (Might as well double it, it freezes well.)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, small leaves preferred.
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, seeded (I never bother!), drained (yes!), and coarsely chopped.
(I use Cidacos brand Spanish tomatoes. That's what we can get in Morelia. I use two large cans of tomates triturados and one can of tomates enteros, which I break up in the pan with a spoon.)
5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped fine.
1/3 cup of olive oil, more if desired (she wrote). I think it's a bit excessive.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper.
1. Pull all the basil leaves from the stalks, rinse them briefly in cold water, and chop them. The yield should be 1 1/2 to 2 cups. (I actually had about half the required amount. The end result was delicious.)
2. Put the chopped basil, tomatoes, garlic the 1/3 cup olive oil. 1 tsp salt and pepper in an uncovered saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Taste and correct for salt.
(O.k.; I added the chopped fresh basil toward the end of the cooking, to preserve its fresh flavor. O.k., I confess that I added a sprinkle of hot red pepper (chile quebrado) to give it a buzz. That's all.)
Please, do not cook this sauce for a long time. The tomatoes come out of the cans already cooked!
Please, do not add other herbs and spice, nor sugar, for God's sake! Keep it simple, and you will enjoy it.