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Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then add the broccoli rabe. Blanch for about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, drain well and set aside in a colander to cool. Finely chop 3/4 cup of the florets and leaves (3-3/4 ounces) and set the rest aside for another use (I sauteed it with garlic and oil).
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the bread with milk, tossing to coat. Let stand, tossing occasionally, until bread is completely moist, about 10 minutes. Squeeze bread between your fingers or mash with a spoon to make sure there are no dry spots; if there are dry spots that refuse to moisten, add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time until bread is moist throughout.
Add the ground beef, chopped broccoli rabe, grated cheese, egg, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Mix with clean hands, then gently form into 15 meatballs, about 1/4 cup each and transfer to a large baking sheet. Broil on the 2nd rack from the top until the top is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
In a small skillet heat the oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook until golden on both sides.
Pour the crushed tomatoes into a 6-quart slow cooker. Add salt and pepper, bay leaf and the garlic. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce, cover and cook low 4 to 6 hours or high 2 to 3 hours.