Bonnie is a lady I met in Pittsburgh, PA and this recipe is based on her enthusiastic description of a family favorite passed down to her. It’s meat and potatoes Italian style – meatballs and potatoes in red sauce with green beans. YUM-O! Bonnie cooks the meatballs as dumplings in in sauce. I brown mine a bit in the oven first to make them a little more stable for a make ahead meal – they won’t break up as easily with a crust on them when you reheat them.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF.
Pour the milk over bread and soak to soften.
Place the meat in a mixing bowl and add the cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, fennel, crushed red pepper, garlic, egg, parsley, salt and pepper.
Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and crumble into crumbs as you add it to the meat. Combine the meatball mix and roll into 2-inch balls. Place the meatballs on nonstick baking sheet sprayed with olive oil spray and roast until browned but not fully cooked, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions and bay, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes. Then add the tomato paste and stir until fragrant. Add the beef stock and tomatoes, then break up the tomatoes with a potato masher. Add the basil, potatoes and meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat back to medium, partially cover and cook 10 minutes. Add the green beans and cook 7 to 8 minutes more.
Serve, or cool completely and store for make-ahead meal. Reheat over a medium-low flame, partially covered, stirring occasionally (or reheat in a 325ºF oven) until sauce is bubbly.
To serve, top shallow bowls of stew with cheese and an extra drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.