Italian Meatballs

When I was a kid, the only time we ever had meatballs was with spaghetti or in albondigas soup. It never occurred to me that one could simply have meatballs with sauce, until I wandered into a restaurant in San Francisco and ordered some Italian meatballs, as an appetizer, or so I thought. To me, meatballs were small little things and three of them would have made a lovely starter for the more substantial entré to follow. Hah! My eyes practically fell out of their sockets when the meatballs arrived. They were almost the size of baseballs. Holy moly. But they were fabulous, and it just meant I had more food to share with my friends.

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These meatballs aren’t quite the size of baseballs though they could be if you wanted them to. Actually you could make them any size you wanted. They’re tender, loaded with herbs and cheese, a mixture of ground beef and pork, and covered with a classic tomato sauce. Enjoy!

Italian Meatballs Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 16 meatballs. Serves 8.

We've used equal amounts of ground beef and ground pork. You could also use a third each of ground beef, pork and veal.

Yum

Ingredients

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef (at least 16 percent fat)
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2/3 cup milk (whole or 2 percent)
  • 3 slices of white bread, crusts removed (about 3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • About 1 cup of flour for dusting
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups (24 ounces) of tomato sauce (make in step 1 of method or use already prepared)

Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onions
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed or whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

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1 Start with the tomato sauce, which will simmer while you prepare the meatballs. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and parsley. Stir to coat with the oil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft and cooked through. Remove the cover, add the garlic, and increase the heat to medium high. Cook the garlic for half a minute, then add the tomatoes (if using whole canned, break up with your fingers as you add them to the pan.) Add the tomato paste and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and let cook uncovered until thickened while you prepare the meatballs, 15 to 30 minutes. Purée in a blender, or push through a food mill for a smooth consistency. Adjust seasonings.

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2 Heat the milk in a small pot until steamy. Turn off the heat, tear the bread into little pieces and soak it in the milk until it partially dissolves. Mash it until you get something that resembles a paste. Turn it out onto a plate to let it cool.

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3 In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, eggs, salt, parsley, oregano, black pepper, garlic cloves and the bread-milk mixture. Mix it well with your hands until it barely combines. Don't overwork the mixture or it will become tough. It is OK to have some discernable bits of bread or meat in the mix; better that than overworked meatballs.

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4 Wet your hands and form the meatballs. A traditional size for this sort of meatball is 2-3 inches across, but you can make them any size you want. Once you roll the meatball in your hands, roll it in the flour to give it a good coating. Set each one on a baking sheet as you work. You might need to rinse your hands a few times as you make the meatballs.

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5 When all the meatballs are formed, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on at least two sides. Don't worry about the center getting cooked through, as you will finish these in the sauce.

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6 Once all the meatballs are browned, arrange them in the sauce, turning each one over in the sauce to coat. Cover the pot and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Serve with the sauce and pasta or crusty bread. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley for garnish if you want.

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Links:

Italian Sausage Meatballs - from Cooking with Amy
Tuscan Style Meatballs - from The Culinary Life
Duck Meatballs, Italian Style - from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Gluten-free Italian Meatballs from Karina, Gluten-free Goddess

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Showing 4 of 75 Comments

  • Becki's Whole Life

    Leave it to an Italian Restaurant to serve an appetizer the size of an entree:-). These look wonderful. I love that you use carrots in your sauce for some extra flavor. Soaking the bread in the warm milk must produce a super moist meatball. I will try this recipe next time we want to make some meatballs!

  • Bev Weidner

    Batter, batter, batter, batter UP. Meatballs in my mouth.

    Y-U-M.

  • Christine

    These. Look. Fantastic.

    I’m a meatball snob — I never order them out because they’re never like my Mom’s and I’m always disappointed. I am going to have to try this recipe…this weekend! I am envisioning that this recipe may be part of Christmas dinner this year….

  • Jim Gauntt

    Meatballs are one of my specialties. I make 16 large balls using 2.25lbs 80% lean ground beef and 0.75lbs sweet Italian sausage for the pork component. I use two-three times the amount of garlic as this recipe and half a cup of chopped parsley. The other thing to do is incorporate two onions chopped fine, sauteed until golden and fairly dry, in a little EVOO with half the garlic you will use and half to one tsp of crushed red pepper flakes. Use a couple of eggs to hold it all together and then bake them at 475F on a baking sheet for 15-20 minutes or well browned. If you don’t have riccotta double or triple up on the Parmesan cheese.

    Incorporate the sweet Italian sausage with all the other ingredients before adding the beef to make the kneading together easier.

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