1. Meatballs: Place bread cubes in a large bowl and pour in milk; stir to coat. Let soak for 15 minutes.
2. Sauce: Meanwhile, heat oil over medium heat in a wide sauté pan or deep skillet. Cook onion, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, pepper and bay leaf. Rinse passata bottles with about ¼ cup (60 mL) water each and pour into pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mash soaked bread into small pieces with a fork. Add garlic, parsley, egg, salt and pepper and beat with a fork until blended. Add beef and Parmesan and gently mix in with fork (careful not to over-mix).
4. Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls (15 mL) of the meat mixture and roll into about twenty 1½ -inch (4 cm) meatballs. Place on a baking sheet or plate.
5. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Cook meatballs, in batches and turning as needed, until browned all over. Transfer to simmering sauce as they are browned. Add more oil to skillet between batches, as necessary.
6. Spoon sauce over meatballs to cover; simmer in sauce, gently stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until a digital instant-read thermometer inserted sideways into several meatballs reads 160°F (71°C) at the least.
7. Garlic Bread: Just before serving, spread one side of each bread slice with garlic butter. Toast bread, buttered side down, over medium heat in a nonstick skillet for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Spoon meatballs and sauce into shallow serving bowls and serve with Garlic Bread.
Soaking dried bread makes for extra-moist, tender meatballs. You’ll need 1 to 2 slices of bread to make the cubes for the meatballs. Use bread that’s a day or two old, or cut into cubes and let dry at room temperature for a day or spread on a baking sheet and dry in a 250F (x C) oven for about 30 minutes.
If using canned crushed tomatoes, you’ll need about one-and-three-quarters 28 oz (796 mL) cans for this recipe. Refrigerate or freeze any extra tomatoes in an airtight container for another use.