serves: makes 36, 2-inch meatballs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced in a food processor
2 garlic cloves, minced in a food processor
¾ teaspoon salt
3 pounds sweet Italian sausage, without fennel seeds
3 large eggs, well beaten with a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, freshly chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons orange zest, finely grated
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, stripped from the stem
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable oil
Pour the olive oil in a medium skillet, drop in the minced onions and fennel and set over medium-high heat. Stir them in the pan for a minute or 2 until they begin to sizzle; clear a space for the garlic and get it sizzling on the side for a minute or so. Sprinkle on salt and stir all together. Turn down the heat and cook or 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are wilted and slightly dried, but don't let them color at all. Scrape them out of the pan to cool.
Meanwhile, take all the sausage meat out of the casing (if packed in links), crumble it up well, and spread it out in a large mixing bowl. Pour the beaten eggs on top of the meat. Add the parsley, remaining salt, pepper, orange zest, thyme leaves; and cooled onions, fennel and garlic, and the bread crumbs all over: Now fold, toss and squeeze the meat and seasonings together with your hands and fingers to distribute all the ingredients evenly.
Spread the flour about 1/4-inch deep in the center of a baking sheet.
Pour vegetable oil into a large, heavy skillet or sauté pan - (12-inch diameter if possible) - to a depth of at least 1/3-inch. Scoop up a portion of meat with a small ice cream scoop, a large spoon or your fingers. Lightly shape the meat between your palms into 2-inch balls, a bit larger than golf balls (or whatever size you like). Drop the ball onto the floured sheet, roll it around until coated, then place it on another baking sheet. Form and flour all the meat into balls in this manner.
Set the skillet over high heat until the oil is very hot. With tongs or a spatula, carefully transfer meatballs to the pan, as many as you can, leaving at least an inch or so between them. Cook for a minute or two, until they've started to brown on the bottom, then turn them continuously - watch out for oil spatters - until golden crusted on all sides, about 6 minutes. As they are done, transfer the fried balls onto a baking sheet. When all the meatballs are on the tray, sprinkle salt lightly over them (just a couple of pinches, in all).
Note: The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce; they are fried just until a golden crust forms. So if you intend, instead, to eat them as is, be sure to fry them longer until they are cooked through.
Before frying the next batch, turn off the heat and, with a fine-meshed skimmer or strainer, remove any browned bits from the oil. Add oil, if needed, to restore the 1/3-inch depth and heat it up again. When all the meatballs are fried, cook them with a sugo.