Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Perfect Meatball & A Perfect Pairing

A recipe & pairing by: Eric Guido

One thing that I never order when eating out is meatballs.

Why? In my opinion, meatballs are one of the most underplayed components of almost every Italian restaurant’s menu. I’m not saying that everyone gets them wrong, but the fact is that more often than not, they are under-seasoned balls of nondescript beef that are dry and boring.

I often wonder why people settle for this, but when I think about it, I may have my standards set too high. You see, the first recipe taught to me in my grandmother’s kitchen were meatballs, cooked to be added to a Sunday Sauce.

To this day I still mix my meatballs by hand, and
will often adjust the recipe by the feel of the mixture.
In those days, I was taught to measure the proper ingredients by the feel of the mixture in my hands. I took these lessons very seriously, and in time I mastered them and began to improve upon them. Today, it is rare that I serve the following recipe to a client. However, it’s very often that these tasty traditional treats adorn my own family table, which is what really counts when the day is done.

Grandma’s Italian Meatballs
Makes 12 medium-sized meatballs

½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground veal
1 medium yellow onion (small dice)
4 cloves of garlic (small dice)
2 tbls. chopped Italian Parsley (rough chop)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 egg (beaten)
½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt (plus more to season to taste)
Olive oil for sauté and frying

In a sauté pan, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan and set the flame to medium. Allow the olive to heat through and add the onions with a good pinch of salt. Allow to sweat until translucent and add the garlic. Continue sweating this mixture until the garlic begins to take on color, but do not let it brown. Immediately remove the mixture from the pan to cool and spread out over parchment paper or a foil-lined sheet pan.

In a large bowl, begin assembling the remaining ingredients. Add the chopped meats, egg and parsley. With clean hands (hands are the best utensil to use for this preparation), mix the contents of the bowl. Then add the onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, pepper and salt. Mix again with your hands until fully combined. Create a small test meatball (you must taste for seasoning).

Fill a fry pan with enough olive oil to come 1/2 of the way up the test meatball. Put the flame on medium and allow the oil to heat through. Next, add the test meatball to the pan. Watch carefully to assure that the oil isn’t too hot. The meatball shouldn’t sear immediately but should instead stay 2–3 minutes on each side between turning. Once it has browned on each side, remove to a paper towel to drain. Once cooled, give it a taste. If it needs more salt or pepper, add it now.

When happy with the mixture, begin to roll out your meatballs. Be careful not to make them too big or you risk not cooking them through. You should be able to roll out 12 meatballs.

Add them to the oil, again making sure they do not burn. Lower or raise the flame as necessary, but remember that these will be further cooked in sauce or the oven. Once they are browned on both sides, you have two options. One- you could continue to bake them in a 350 degree oven, covered in foil, for thirty minutes and then serve them dry with sauce on the side. Two, my favorite- you can add them to your favorite sauce and simmer them for 15-20 minutes and spoon them over your favorite pasta. What’s great about this method is that the flavors of the sauce and meatballs mix and bolster each other.

No matter how you do it, they will taste great and can be even better the next day.

So what about the wine?
It may seem like a cliché, but I find that nothing pairs better with Spaghetti and Meatballs, than a bottle of Chianti Classico.

2009 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico - The nose was vibrant and layered, showing masses of ripe strawberry, floral tones, medicinal cherry, herbs and a hint of cinnamon sugar. On the palate, it came to life over the course of an hour, at first lean and then gaining volume, as juicy red berry, herbs and cedar messaged the senses. A deep well of structure showed through the finish as focused red fruits were turned lean with silky tannin which coated the cheeks. I thoroughly enjoyed this young Chianti Classico. (92 points) Find it one: Wine-Searcher!

*Recipe property of Eric Guido, originally published by Snooth Media.


  1. Eric, love this post. We appear to share a similar opinion and passion for meatballs. A couple of differences, I always try the meatballs at restaurants. I must admit on most occasions I am disappointed and put my fork down after one or two bites. However I feel it is the duty of my Italian heritage to try them. I have on occasion have been pleasantly surprised, but not very often.

    While my recipe is a bit different than yours, we both follow the critical step in my opinion, we FRY THE MEATBALLS. I finish mine in my "gravy".

    1. You're right, the cooking ends with meatballs dipped in the sauce, it also adds them that are more tasty.
      Apparently we have the same school. greetings!!,,,,,,,,,,,, Enrique

  2. That is exactly how my family makes meatballs, though we tear apart pieces of deliciously crusty white bread that have been dunked in milk. There is nothing quite like a good meatball which is why, agreeably, most restaurant varieties pale in comparison...also because they cannot really add the love and heritage necessary to make the tasting an enjoyable experience. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Mangia, the bread, soaked in milk is a crucial step. I think another problem is that too little bread is used by most. In my opinion, a good amount of "molica", i.e. the inside of the bread minus the crust is essential to a moist and delicious meatball.

    1. Mark, MANGIA! in Italian is = EAT! not a name, haha!!,.
      And you're right also about to be added bread without the crust, crumb and just soaked in milk.
      Greetings,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Enrique.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I have often wondered how my family didn't use the soaked bread method for their meatballs. My Grandfather was off the boat from Bari, and as far as I know, my Grandmother learned most of what she knew from him. I guess I have to try this one day and see how the results differ.

  5. My English is poor, but I colaboprar to the making of a delicious, and TIERNAS meatloaf.
    If possible, prepare the mixture with time, more flavor longer if from one day to another, much better.
    The whole procedure is perfect, but added to the mixture 1 tablespoon olive oil, it causes them to become gentle, and no dry feel in the mouth.
    Cheers and enjoy them!,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Enrique.

  6. Your recipe is the same I've been using for about 60 years. I started cooking when I was 15-16 years old,now pushing 76 years young. But instead of browning them in oil,I now bake them using parchment paper on a cookie sheet. I bake them at 375 degrees for 20 minutes then I add them to my homemade sauce for the last 2 hours of cooking. Cooking them in the sauce for that amount of time makes them so tender they melt in your mouth.I cook my sauce for about 12 hours to give the spices plenty of time to flavor the sauce. Cooking it slowly also brings the sauce to a great consistancy. Right before serving the meatballs and sauce I add 1/2 cup of grated italian cheese to the sauce. Ummm. Great. Joan Burdette

  7. Hi Eric,

    Do you have a good recipe for the sauce you use with your meatballs?


  8. Eric, This is a true Italian Classic Recipe for Meatballs, simple, fresh, flavorful ingredients. I believe that the combo of pork, veal, beef along with the Pecorino Romano is what really makes the flavor of this recipe (it’s nearly identical to how I make meatballs)

    You don’t need to add Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, … ugh, why do people mess up a meatball like that? it’s a meatball, not MEATLOAF (which is good in its own right, but not a meatball!)

    The basic marinara sauce should be just as simple.
    The quality of the tomatoes you use is important
    I avoid Cento and lately have been avoiding Tuttorosso because of lack of consistency with the quality of the tomatoes
    I like San Marzano tomatoes, but just because say they are San Marzano, does not mean that they ALL san marzano tomatoes are good
    There is a band called San Marzano which is actually grown here in the US, I find they are consistently the best, you don’t get half green, tough, flavorless tomatoes EVER from this brand

    My recipe
    For every three 28 oz cans of tomatoes chop one small onion and one clove of garlic

    Cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil, add the finely diced onion, till transluscent, then add the garlic, and sautee for about one minute (do not let the garlic brown)

    I use two cans crushed and one can of puree for the best consistency
    For every three cans of tomatoes, I put about ½ teaspoon of salt) (NO SUGAR!)

    Add your tomatoes and salt allow to simmer about 20 minutes, then add 3 or 4 torn leaves of fresh basil.
    That’s your basic marinara sauce

    Here’s where you have options.
    You could simmer your meatballs if that’s just what you want in your sauce OR
    What I like to do
    Brown some country ribs in oil, add to the sauce.
    Pour off the oil and deglaze the pan with about a half cup of a good dry red wine (I like to use Cabernet Sauvignon)
    Keep simmering on VERY low for at least two hours,
    Then brown 1-1 ½ lbs sweet Italian Sausage add to the pot and deglaze the pan with another half cup of wine
    Allow to simmer about a half hour before adding your meatballs (don’t add any more wine at this point, the alcohol and ‘raw’ wine flavor will be too pronounced)
    I do sometime stir in a few tablespoons of pecorino Romano at the very end.
    Simmer meatballs for 15-20 minutes (no more than that, otherwise you’ll literally loose the flavor of the meatball and, if you cook meatballs TOO long, they will begin to fall apart in your sauce.

    OR take the basic marinara, add some vodka, allow it to cook off, take off heat add heavy cream and some grated parmesean and viola you have Vodka Cream sauce

    OR basic marinara, add clams and when they open, fresh parsley and TA DA you have red clam sauce

    With a basic marinara you have so many options. And it freezes well too~

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