Combine ground chuck, breadcrumbs, minced onion, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper, mixing well. Shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs; brown in oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain off drippings.
Combine meatballs, water, tomato paste, remaining salt, thyme, garlic, and bay leaf; cover and simmer 30 minutes.
Stir in remaining ingredients; cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Serve stew immediately in individual soup bowls.