Italian Meatballs

Classic Italian-American style meatballs, huge, pillowy soft and loaded with herbs and cheese, mixed with ground beef and pork, served with a traditional tomato sauce.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Italian Meatballs

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

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  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour
  • 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.

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

1 Make the tomato sauce: 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. Return to pan. Adjust seasonings.

2 Soak torn bread in hot milk: 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.

3 Make meatball mixture: 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.

4 Form meatballs, roll in flour: 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.

5 Brown meatballs: 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.

6 Finish cooking meatballs in tomato sauce: 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:

Spaghetti and Meatballs here on Simply Recipes

Swedish Meatballs here on Simply Recipes

Daniel Gritzer's Juicy and Tender Italian-American Meatballs on Serious Eats

Italian Meatballs

Showing 4 of 72 Comments

  • Jim Lynn

    I put the meatballs on a cookie sheet and brown them under the broiler rather than fry them. Much faster and just as good.

  • Jessica

    I followed this recipe exactly! THere was definitely not enough sauce. Plus the meatballs were very salty. That was with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt.

  • Becky

    I’d love to make these a day ahead for a large family dinner. How would you recommend doing so? Make them up to cooking then cook the day of? Of make them all the way then reheat?

  • Wanda Zawadzki

    These are amazing! I have been making them for a couple of years. Is it possible to bake these instead of frying? If so how long should I bake for covered/uncovered?

  • Sophie

    I’ve always loved meatballs and will buy a bag of it at the store if it’s on sale. I have no idea why because it always taste like cardboard. I made this recipe this past weekend and again tonight. I like making the meatballs super huge. So good. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe to a T. This time, I tweaked a few things. I added some crushed red pepper and basil. Instead of making the sauce from scratch, I cheated with a good jar of tomato sauce. Heaven. Will never buy another bag of frozen meatballs.

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