For many people, there’s that one family recipe that always brings back memories of growing up—and for chef Donatella Arpaia, that is her mom’s meatballs and ragu.
“Meatballs and Sunday ragu is so much a part of our story,” Arpaia tells PEOPLE. “It really what made me follow my whole career in food. It all started with the meatball.”
The 46-year-old, who announced earlier this week that she is expecting twins with her husband Allan Stewart, says this classic Italian recipe is one her mom always made on Sundays.
“There was a reason for it,” she says. “It takes a long time. This is not something you want to rush, particularly the ragu.”
Arpaia says the key to this recipe is frying the meatballs like “all good Italians do” and using the right technique while forming them into balls.
“The hands have to massage the meat really well and you don’t want to play with your balls too much, I don’t know how else to say it,” she says with a laugh.
She also notes that once you put the meatballs in the frying pan, you have to leave them alone and only flip them once.
“You want a gorgeous crust to form,” she says.
Arpaia serves the dish over fresh orecchiette pasta and ricotta salata on top.
“It brings me back to my childhood in one second,” she says.
Get the full recipe below, and watch the step-by-step video above.
Donatella Arpaia’s Sunday Meatballs and Ragu
Serves 8 to 10
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1½ lbs (6-8) meaty, bone-in-pork spareribs, rinsed
1½ lbs (6-8) sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, pierced all over with a fork
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 cup red wine
3 (35-oz.) cans tomato puree
1 handful fresh basil leaves
Meatballs (recipe below)
1. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
2. Add celery and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, partially covered, until golden and soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add meats and raise the heat to medium-high. Sauté, turning occasionally until browned all over.
4. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, 5 minutes.
5. Add tomato puree, basil, salt and pepper. Partially cover, bring to a boil, and reduce heat. Let it simmer 1½ hours. Add the meatballs and let simmer another 20 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and serve with pasta of your choice.
Serves 8 to 10
1 small loaf stale Italian bread (about 8 thick slices) torn into 2½-inch chunks
2 lbs. 80%-lean ground beef chuck
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¾ cups grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil, for frying
1. Put bread in a bowl and add enough milk to cover. Let stand for 5 minutes, turning to moisten evenly. Gently squeeze out excess milk.
2. Add beef, garlic, parsley, egg and Parmesan to the bread and combine. Season with salt and pepper. Knead the mixture for at least 5 minutes with your hands, until uniformly combined and smooth.
3. Pinch a tablespoon of meat into your palms and shape into a ball. Place on a baking sheet and continue with the rest of the mixture.
4. Fill a large, deep skillet halfway with canola oil and heat over high heat. When strands form along the bottom, lower 8 to10 meatballs at a time into the oil. Do not overcrowd. They should be ¾ submerged in oil. Reduce the heat to medium and fry for 6 to 7 minutes each side, turning only once.
5. Remove the meatballs from the oil and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Turn the heat back up to high and repeat with second batch.