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~Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Sunday Gravy & Meatballs~

IMG_8183Sunday gravy.  Tomato sauce, simmering low and slow in a pot brimming with meatballs bobbing around -- what's not to love.  It's a tradition in the Italian-American kitchen and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon -- stirring a pot of bubbling sauce and sipping wine with the family and some friends milling around.  That said, I grew up in an Eastern European household -- we ate spaghetti and meatballs on Tuesdays, as Sundays were for roast chicken or pot roast and "the other gravy".  Mom and dad designated Tuesdays as our day to have spaghetti and meatballs.

While many regard spaghetti & meatballs as quintessential Italian, the dish was created in the U.S. in the early 1900's.  Meatballs were not initially served with pasta.  They were served alone, as was the pasta.  The two teamed together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served with pasta.

IMG_3124 2Fast forward to 1980.  I married Joe and into his Italian-heritaged family, and fast-tracked all I could  -- Sunday sugo and a head-spinning array of other family-favorite main-dishes and desserts.  That said, Joe traveled a lot, so, many a weeknight, it just was me, three boys and their after-school activities.  I too designated Tuesday nights for spaghetti and meatballs, but, a simplified version.  The meatballs and sauce cooked in the slow cooker, which conveniently could be scheduled to be ready at a time I knew we'd all be home to eat dinner and do homework.  

My kid-friendly version is quick to put together and requires no slicing, dicing or frying --  both the sauce and the meat mixture can be prepped in about fifteen minutes.  There's more.  Past the ground beef and some ground pork if you want to add it, all of the ingredients come out of the pantry and off the spice rack.  Unless you have have a really big family or teenage boys, there's easily enough for two meals, which in our house means meatball sandwiches the next day.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95967d7970bMeet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for a big batch of meatballs  (28 to be precise) to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

Moist, fork-tender meatballs in a thick, rich tomato sauce...

IMG_8214... an uncompromisingly-delicious time-saving recipe: 

IMG_8121For the Gravy (Tomato Sauce):

2  28-ounce cans high-quality Italian-style crushed tomatoes

2  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1  teaspoon dried basil or Italian seasoning blend

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper 

IMG_8131For the meatballs:

2  pounds ground beef (85/15), or, 1 pound each: beef & pork

2/3  cup each:  plain dry breadcrumbs and finely-grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2  teaspoons dried basil or Italian seasoning blend

1 1/2 teaspoons each: dehydrated minced garlic and onion, cracked black pepper and sea salt

2  large eggs

IMG_8122 IMG_8122~ Step 1.  To mix the sauce, place and stir all ingredients (crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried basil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper) together in a Crockpot casserole cooker. Set aside and mix meat as directed:

IMG_8133 IMG_8133~ Step 2.  To mix the meat, in a large bowl, place all ingredients (ground beef, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, dried basil, dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt, pepper and eggs).  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_8137 IMG_8137 IMG_8137 IMG_8137~Step 3.  Using a 2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, divide meat mixture into 28 portions, about 1 1/2-ounces each.  Using your hands, form into round balls, placing them, side-by-side in sauce -- do not push down on meatballs.  Cover crockpot and cook on high for 2-2 1/2 hours.

IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8156 IMG_8156 IMG_8156~Step 4.  After 2-2 1/2 hours, using a pair of tongs, remove meatballs to a platter, a bowl, or a casserole.  Cover and set aside.  Ladle the sauce into two 1-quart food storage bowls and set aside.  To this point, meatballs and sauce can be prepared several hours and up to two days in advance. Reheat and serve with cooked and drained steaming-hot pasta.

A thick rich full-flavored sauce w/tender, juicy meatballs.  

IMG_8177Can I interest you in a side-serving of garlic bread?

IMG_8282Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Gravy & Meatballs:  Recipe yields 28 meatballs and 2 quarts sauce.

Special Equipment List:  Crockpot casserole; large spoon; 2" ice-cream scoop; tongs; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94beaae970bCook's Note: There's no discernible difference between a crockpot-cooked meatloaf vs. an oven-baked meatloaf.  Meatloaf in the crockpot is not crock-our-world crocket science.  Home cooks have been using Betty Crocker's method for slow-cooking meatloaf for decades. That said, after purchasing my new Crockpot casserole, I decided to "think inside the box and dare to be square", and, my ~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot-Casserole Meatloaf ~, which yields a generous 16-20 servings came out great!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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