Our Favorite Meatballs

Summary: In 2009, Gourmet published an Italian-American issue. The cover recipe was this one: the most spectacular meatballs ever. This is the sort of recipe that will make you feel like an Italian grandmother; you will mix and shape and fry and simmer for hours. Really, you need to dedicate a half-day to these meatballs and their sauce. But, if you do, you will be rewarded many times over: a fantastic meal one night, leftovers the next and ample portions to tuck away into your freezer for another time. 
Note: I don't eat veal so make up for the amount called for here by using extra pork and beef.

Yield: serves 12-16


  • five 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano brand and tomato type)
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped or put through a press
  • 4 teaspoons salt


  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8-10 garlic cloves, finely chopped or put through a press
  • 3 cups torn day-old Italian bread (I often use ciabatta, or just a baguette)
  • 1 cups whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups (or 1/4 pound) grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, optional
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped oregano, or 1 tsp dried, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (CRITICAL ELEMENT)
  • 1½ pounds ground pork
  • 3 pounds ground beef (not lean)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • salt & pepper


For the sauce: Drain tomatoes, reserving their juice, in a large bowl. Crush tomatoes with your hands and add to juice.

Cook the two medium chopped onions in the half-cup olive oil in pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the six prepared garlic cloves and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved tomatoes with their juice, 4 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of fresh pepper. Simmer sauce, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Season with salt if need be.

For the meatballs which you should start making while the sauce simmers: Cook onions in extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding milk.

Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest, 5½ teaspoon salt, and 1½ teaspoon pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hands until just combined (do not overmix).

Form the meat mixture into about 70 (1½-inch) balls with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on 2 large baking sheets or in shallow baking pans. *Number of meatballs will, of course, depend on size of them.

Heat olive or vegetable oil (1 cup) in a 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown meatballs in 4 or 5 batches (without crowding), turning frequently, about 5 minutes per batch. Return to baking sheets. 
If you prefer to bake rather than fry the meatballs, place them atop cooling racks set in half-sheet pans and roast in the oven until just done. 

Add meatballs to sauce and gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. (If pot is not large enough, divide meatballs and sauce between 2 pots.)

Prepare pasta: Cook spaghetti in 2 batches in pasta insert in boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until just al dente, draining and tossing each batch with some of sauce in a large serving dish.

Serve with meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated cheese.