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Mar 24, 2009 07:12 AM

Delicious Italian Meatballs !!

I wanted to ask everyones advice on how to make italian meatballs. I have been tampering w recipes for some time now but can never get that delicious, perfectly flavored meatball (like the type you could put into a meatball sub). I wanted to know if anyone has any tricks or suggestions?

I used to use beef but found that it made an enormous difference when I mixed it w pork - have others found the same? Much more flavor. I add bread crumbs, an egg (not sure if I should though), onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt/pepper, italian herbs.

What else can I try? Is sauteing fresh onions and garlic and then folding it in to meat mixture worth it? I'm also going to try a turkey-pork mix to see how that goes.

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  1. I make meatballs like my mom and grandmother taught me. Ground beef (we grind our own chuck), seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (Progresso), salt, pepper, egg, milk, and lots of freshly ground pecorino romano. Then I brown them in olive oil and add to the sauce (when I make meatballs, I always make red sauce). I also bake Italian sausage in red wine, then add the cut up sausages along with the meatballs to the sauce for the last hour or two of simmering. But, from your above description, what's missing to me is the cheese. I think that's the key to having them taste great, and folks seem to love them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Niki in Dayton

      Cheese is what makes a good meatball better. You almost can't have enough. Not the stuff in the green can though!

      1. re: Niki in Dayton

        Almost exactly the way my Sardinian ancestors made it too. They also used to make their own pasta, the gnocchi was a treat !

      2. Do you mean ground pork, or ground Italian sausage? The latter makes a great meatball when mixed with ground chuck. You can sometimes find loose sausage meat but if not, just slice open the casing and peel it off (neater then trying to squeeze it out).
        Keep the egg (holds the meatball together) and bread crumbs. Use fresh minced onion and garlic - if you gently saute these before adding to the meat mix the flavor will be mellower. As for other seasonings, S&P for sure, with basil or oregano optional if already included in your tomato sauce. You can, optionally, brown them in a pan first, floured or not, or just put the raw meatballs into the gently simmering sauce. If the latter, don't stir until you've ascertained that they are cooked enough to stay in one piece.
        Turkey is very bland and very loose - harder to work with in making meatballs, and needs a heavier hand on seasoning. I'd stick with the beef/sausage mix.

        10 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Although the Italian Sausage idea sound intriguing, I prefer the sausage to be sausage when making a Sunday gravy....along with meatballs, spare ribs and braciole......however, I will try this next time I make sauce/gravy ....I am curious to see what the flavor and texture difference will be.

          My meatballs always consist of the following ingredients:

          Ground Beef
          Ground Pork
          Ground Veal
          Day old bread soaked in milk
          Salt and Pepper
          Large amount of Freshly Grated Cheese
          Freshly Chopped Italian Parsley
          Grated Onions and Garlic (very fine)

          I do not have the patience to fry the meatballs in a fry pan, so I always place them on a greased sheet pan and cook them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes @ 325* before transferring them to the sauce pot. I have also put the the raw meat directly into the sauce as well with positive results. One tip I read if your intent is to make large sized to place them into muffin pans to reduce the oil splatter. I believe I have also read on this site to include some water into the meatball mix for softer meatballs...although I have not tried this yet myself.

          For some variations, I also include Ricotta into the mix which makes a lighter meatball(not as firm or dense).....and sometimes a small cube of Mozzarella. I have made Ground Chicken and Turkey meatballs in the past and most times no one could tell any difference. i have never experienced the problem of them being loose myself.....I guess I have been fortunate....:-)

          1. re: fourunder

            Now _that_ is a meatball! Like your tip on baking in the oven rather than frying. I'd love to hear a little more about your gravy ingredients and the cuts of meat you use.

            1. re: Cpt Wafer

              Cpt Wafer,

              My Sunday Gravy recipe above is the basic foundation for my usual method, but it is not etched in stone. Truth be told, I never follow exact measurements or recipes, so the sauce is always a little bit different in terms of seasoning ingredients and the cuts of meat I use, based on what is on hand or what is available at the market (on sale).

              I do not know if it is a virtue or curse, but my background includes working in the restaurant and food industry..... Along with that comes a wealth of knowledge from Professional Chefs(too many ideas) which I have been privy too...and also, I have been able to purchase everything wholesale at reduced prices.....but for the home, buying wholesale other than at the holidays is excessive, so I do shop at supermarkets and in general, I prefer a rustic style of cooking for my home meals. What does this have to do with your query about (gray ingredients)? Shopping retail is very offensive to I only purchase what is on sale on any given week to plan or prepare any meals. Seeing any premium beef cuts over $4.99/lb or chopped meat over $1.99/lb., pork cuts over $1.99/lb., or chicken over .79/lb. is hard for me to take.. Luckily for me I am able to use a knife and can butcher pretty well......and there are some Asian grocery stores with butchers and fish mongers where the prices are very reasonable. When purchasing ground meats, I always purchase the three meats individually and never in a meat loaf three pack mix. Generally, I purchase about 6-7 pounds total (2-3lbs beef, 2lbs pork and 2.lbs veal) which makes anywhere from 40-50 medium sized meatballs.

              Usually, when I make gravy, I make a large amount so I can have leftovers and have extra for my son to take he is a single guy working very hard and does not have time to cook for himself. For tomatoes, I like to use San Marzano when available and two of my favorite brands are La Fede or Pastene...but I also like Cento and Pope too. If I cannot find them, I will use Contadina Crushed, which is the standard brand available at Costco. I use the equivalent of two number ten cans in a large pot and add the meats after they have been browned or not...depending on how lazy I am. The meats used are:

              beef, pork and veal
              pork braciole
              hot and sweet Italian sausage
              baby back spare ribs(first choice)
              st louis style ribs (second choice)

              variations will include:
              pork shank or butt
              pork shoulder
              Chicken carcass and/or dark meat

              My winter time sauces will include oxtails or short ribs for sure........ My sister-in-law's paternal grandmother(RIP), who was regarded as the absolute best Italian home cook. made her gravy with a whole chicken in addition to the pork choices....and her gravy was fantastic. iI would suggest you give this a try as well.

              As I mentioned above, the ultimate recipe used will depend on what is on hand or what is on sale at the market. The supermarket I frequent most usually has manager specials that are unadvertised in the weekly circular. For pork cuts, they will usually have either the pork shoulder(first choice) or fresh butt ham(second choice). or a pork loin roast with ribs. I usually will bone out one of the three and use the bone and some of the meat from them. In the case of the pork loin roast(which I will purchase two quantity of), it would save me on purchasing the ridiculously expensive back ribs(usually 5.99-7.99). I guess on reflecting, the shank and ribs from the loin roast are equal to the pork shoulder for preference...since they both have a good deal of marbling and the shank has the great connective cartilage/collagen. The shoulder and butt are almost always .99 or less and the pork loin roasts are usually from 1.49-1.99.....After boning out the loin roast, I will save the loin for another day...usually a low heat, slow roasted application for quick meals, i.e., slicing for add-ins or sandwiches.

            2. re: fourunder

              fourunder we make the same meatballs - love them with ricotta mixed in. I bake mine too with a little added beef broth, then pour some of the broth into the sauce. I substitute Italian sausage for the pork sometimes.

              1. re: bayoucook

                That's a good idea. I want to try this ricotta deal.

                1. re: bayoucook


                  I am sure many others will try the (secret) to a very good meatball too. When making Chopped Steak, I knew a chef who included beef bouillon as seasoning. I will have to try your beef broth idea soon. Thanks.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Thanks, let me know. Got the tip about the broth from Cuisine mag.

                2. re: fourunder

                  Sounds wonderful! I use the same. I also make a ton, and then freeze them, 16 balls in a 1-quart ziploc, to have later.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Skip the onion, it makes them taste like meatloaf.

                    1. re: markjbillet

                      I can't seem to skip onion very often - love it. Added some ricotta cheese to my last batch and it made for a wonderful texture; gonna do that again.

                3. Pork is a must in the mixture. Between the pork and beef (or veal), make sure you're using fattier cuts. Get your butcher to grind you some pork shoulder and beef chuck. Or if you're buying it pre-ground, don't get lean.

                  I use homemade breadcrumbs. Some use stale bread, broken into pieces and soaked in milk.

                  Stay away from onion powder, garlic powder. I usually omit garlic altogether, but if I was, I'd sautee it along with diced onions (fresh, not powder) in order to mellow out the flavour.

                  Finely chopped parsley and basil are also good to use.

                  Lots of grated peccorino or parmesan or grana padano.

                  If you're not sure, fry a bit of the meat in a pan and test for seasoning.

                  1. I make mine like grandgourmand but cook them like fourunder. The real trick is to not over handle the meatballs when you are forming them otherwise they get tough.

                    1. Start with the following recipe from Rao's


                      Yes it looks like a lot of water and add it in batches and work it into the meat. Sometimes you do not need as much.

                      Then this past time jfood changed the cooking a bit. Instead of frying the meatballs he placed them on a wire rack over a cooking sheet and baked them for 20-30 minutes at 350. They are like pillows of love.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: jfood

                        I always had trouble making this one. I usually used lean ground pork, eggs, flour and onions for this but when I tried to form this into a ball, it is so loose. Does adding breadcrumbs do the trick?

                        1. re: Dark Wanderer

                          I use the same recipe and bake the same way jfood does. I play with the amount of water, but generally it is a loose mixture. I don't mind the flat bottoms at all :)

                          1. re: Dark Wanderer

                            Bread crumbs will definitely help, but I believe using too lean meat may be a part of your problem as well. I always use an 80/20 meat to fat ration.....any excess fat will release during the cooking/simmering process and can be easily removed by skimming or cooling similar to de-fatting chicken soup.

                            1. re: Dark Wanderer

                              add the water in batches until you get the correct consistency.