Italian-American Meatballs

For the sauce:
2 (28 ounces) cans whole peeled tomatoes

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper, plus more as needed

For the meatballs:
3½ cups roughly chopped stale Italian bread
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup ricotta cheese
¾ pound ground beef
¼ pound ground pork
¼ pound ground veal

1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley

1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
9 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

3 eggs, beaten well
Flour (for coating)
Cooked pasta (optional).

1. In a large bowl, using your hands, tear the tomatoes into pieces.
2. In a large flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, heat the oil, add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
3. Add the tomatoes, water, bay leaf, salt, and red pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if you like.
4. In a bowl, soak the bread in 1/2 cup milk to moisten it. If it is still dry, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the crumbs are moist; set aside for 15 minutes. With your hands, break the mixture into large crumbs. Add the ricotta and mix well.
5. In another bowl, combine the beef, pork, and veal. With a fork, break up the meats, then add the garlic, parsley, salt, black pepper, Parmesan, pine nuts, prunes, bread mixture, and eggs. Mix with your hands until combined.
6. Roll the mixture into 12 plum-size balls, each about 2-inches in diameter. Coat each meatball lightly in flour, reshape, and slip into the tomato sauce.
7. Return the sauce to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes without moving the meatballs. Turn the meatballs gently, recover the pan, and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer 5 minutes more. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt or red pepper, to taste. Serve meatballs with sauce, and over pasta, if you like.
Serves 6. –Jill Santopietro for The Boston Globe.