A family recipe for classic Italian-American-style meatballs, with fresh parsley, and garlic.
Meatballs are personal.
For me, meatballs are like Proust’s madeleine. Like any childhood comfort food, meatballs represent a time, place and taste that exists only in my memory.
But when prepared in just the right way — today, right now — one bite into a really good meatball can transport me back to my parents’ Sunday afternoon dinner table.
My mother would set out a large platter of meat that had spent the better part of the day braising in the gravy — a/k/a thick, long-simmered tomato sauce.
There would usually be a beef chuck roast, braciole (a rolled beef flank steak stuffed with cheese, breadcrumbs and fresh parsley), sweet and spicy pork sausages handmade by my grandfather, and meatballs. I always went straight for the meatballs.
Meatballs are so personal that even among family there can be great disappointment. My bias unfailingly (some might say stubbornly) swerved toward my mother’s meatballs.
Who makes the best meatballs?
Even as much as I loved my grandmother’s Sunday sauce, I was ambivalent about her meatballs.
And because each person’s meatball is as unique in form as their own fingerprint, it was always immediately apparent to me when someone other than my own mother or grandmother had shaped meatballs and surreptitiously slid them into the family gravy pot.
One Sunday gravy incident traumatized me for life. I can’t remember the distant relative who’d prepared them, all I know is this: One hopeful bite of her meatball revealed something dark, chewy and slimy-sweet, an alien nugget that could only be… a raisin. A raisin.
Who would go and put a raisin in an innocent-looking meatball? And why?
Later, my mother explained to me in a stage whisper that it was because great aunt Carmella was Sicilian. Ohhh.
Needless to say, my family was spoiled by my mother’s stellar meatballs and as a result grew very particular. It was standard for us to rate the quality of the meatballs whenever we ate at a restaurant. We could spot inferior execution every time.
Like meatballs made with stale, dried, seasoned breadcrumbs or those that were so firm and rubbery you could set one on a pool table and smack it into the corner pocket.
Because I believe my mother made the very best meatballs, hers are the standard by which all others are judged. Generously portioned, almost the size of a baseball, they were crusty on the outside, tender and light inside.
My mom’s meatballs were strewn with flecks of fresh parsley, garlic and soft bits of milk-soaked crumbs of fresh crusty bread. They were sharp with the salty tang of Pecorino Romano cheese, big juicy spheres I couldn’t wait to stick my fork into.
My mother is no longer with us, and sadly, she took her meatball recipe with her. She’d told me her meatball secrets, probably more than once, but that was a while ago and the details are sketchy.
Did she say to remove the crusts from the bread before soaking in milk? To squeeze out the milk thoroughly or to keep the bread dripping with liquid? To flatten the meatballs slightly while frying?
I think this recipe comes pretty close to hers, but that perfect meatball will remain a work in progress. Serve these babies with Easy Homemade Marinara and enjoy!
classic italian meatballs
Yield 15 - 17 meatballs
A family-favorite homestyle Italian meatball recipe, made with beef and pork and seasonings. Serve with quick homemade marinara or your favorite sauce.
Meatballs can be made ahead and frozen up to 2 months.
- 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs*
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1 pound ground pork
- ½ cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley or basil (or a mixture of both), roughly chopped
- Olive oil
- Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl and pour the milk over.
- Add the egg yolks, cheese salt, pepper and garlic to the bowl and mix until combined.
- Add the meat and parsley. Blend everything together well, using your hands or a large wooden spoon. Use a ¼-cup measuring cup to portion the mixture and roll into balls. They don’t have to be perfect – craggy meatballs have character and hold the sauce better.
- Pour enough oil into a large skillet to coat the bottom and place over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add as many meatballs as will fit in the pan without crowding. They should sizzle as soon as they hit they pan or the pan isn’t hot enough.
- Brown the meatballs on all sides. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue cooking and until the meatballs are firm and cooked through, about 15 minutes total.
- Serve with homemade tomato marinara sauce or your favorite prepared tomato sauce.
*To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim off the crust from a few slices of hearty country bread. Tear the bread into large pieces and pulse in a food processor to make coarse pea-size crumbs
Courses main course/meat
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Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
As the recipe developer, photographer and publisher of Familystyle Food, I share recipes and tips for making easy seasonal meals that are healthy and flavorful.
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