Italian Meatballs

Comfort FoodItalianGround BeefMeatballs

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.

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

If you make this recipe, snap a pic and hashtag it #simplyrecipes — We love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter!

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

79 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Janet

    So delicious. Whole family loved them!

  • Kristi

    I used sweet Italian sausage instead of ground pork and doubled the sauce so we could make subs with the leftovers. It was delicious! I also added a bit more of the ricotta, maybe 2 tablespoons. And I added about 2 tablespoons of dried Italian seasoning, tomato paste and 1 teaspoon sugar to my sauce. The fresh meatballs had the most flavor. I was surprised because sometimes pasta dishes are better the second day. We had enough for two meals and have half of the batch in the freezer for future subs or pasta. I will definitely make this for years to come.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Vanessa

    I made these tonight and they were great! It was a bit of a last minute decision and I didn’t have any ricotta so I increased the bread a bit. & I may increase the sauce next time. The amount of sauce was good and there was enough to cook the meatballs in, but it would be nice to have a little extra for leftovers. I also decreased the amount of salt called for the meatballs and was happy with the taste. I learned a few new tips while following this recipe (flouring the meatballs & not over mixing them).
    Can’t wait to make these again with the ricotta!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Gretchen

    The sauce for this was so flavorful! I really enjoyed eating it.

  • Paul

    Please elaborate, if you would, about why you dust the meatballs with flour. My guess is it’s to facilitate browning — but does the flour really make a difference? Also, I’ve been chasing a technique to produce a crispy crust on the meatballs without compromising tenderness and juiciness. I tried adding a little cornstarch to the dusting flour, but I’m not sure it helped much. My concern about the dusting flour is that it runs the risk of introducing bitterness as well as unpleasant texture. Your thoughts?

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