Too Many Meatballs


A few years ago, restaurants in New York City couldn’t open without meatballs. From the Little Owl’s adorable sliders and Apizz’s ricotta-enhanced monsters in Manhattan, to over the Brooklyn Bridge for Sicilian-style spheres at Frankie’s 457 Spuntino, the city’s restaurants were offering all meatballs, all the time.

A look through my own recipe archive shows that I’ve also done some experimenting with the little guys. For our annual holiday party I’ve made both the pork-and-veal and beef-and-pork versions of Mark Bittman’s polpetti, otherwise known as tiny meatballs. They were so popular they disappeared as soon as they hit the table. And I never told you about Mario Batali’s turkey meatballs, which I made last year: The rosemary was so overpowering that I couldn’t bring myself to write about them. (Actually, I just looked for the recipe online. In contrast to the page I originally printed out, the current version online is completely different and does not mention rosemary at all. Hmm, very suspicious.) So far, my go-to meatball recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated’s America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. It combines both ground beef and pork with breadcrumbs, parmesan, egg, and a touch of yogurt, creating rich, soft versions of this favorite comfort food.

But last week I tried another recipe, this one inspired by Luisa over at the Wednesday Chef. She had written a post about some marvelous pork and ricotta meatballs that she tried at a restaurant called A16 in San Francisco. (I guess that meatball trend also stretched out to the West Coast.) After reading about Luisa’s desire to replicate the meatballs at home, I decided I needed to try them too and searched for the recipe published in a recent issue of Food & Wine.

This recipe calls for ground pork, plus pancetta, ricotta, and other traditional elements such as parsley, breadcrumbs, and oregano. The meatballs are baked, not fried, in sea of crushed peeled tomatoes for 2 hours. When they finally emerged from the oven they weren’t as browned as we expected, but oh were they cushiony and rich, bursting with pork flavors from both the ground pork and pancetta. Light and soft, swimming in a thick sauce, they were the perfect food for yet another snowy evening at home.

Jim and I didn’t adjust the recipe at all, meaning that we wound up with enough meatballs for a family of six. We ate some leftovers with spaghetti later in the week and froze the rest for a weekend lunch in the near future. But it wasn’t a problem. I think most people, whether eating at home or in a restaurant, would agree: You can never have too many meatballs.


6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jenn said,

    have you ever tried cooking your meatballs right in the sauce… no frying or baking first? makes the best, most moist meatball! I am a fan of the beef and pork combo. As for recipe, I have been sticking to the same one for years… my grandma d’erasmo’s (my mom’s mom). The only difference is i now dont fry them first. YUM!

  2. 2

    Christina said,

    Hi Jenn! I haven’t tried cooking the meatballs straight in the sauce; I’ll have to sometime. My mom just told me that she microwaves her meatballs now instead of frying them, and then adds them to her sauce about a half hour before it’s done. I guess everyone has a different method! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. 3

    Brian said,

    “I think most people, whether eating at home or in a restaurant, would agree: You can never have too many meatballs”

    Oh, I very much think that you CAN!

  4. 4

    Benita said,

    I am baffled. Made a beautiful Sunday Gravy yesterday with the hopes it would taste even better today. Fried, or I should say browned my meatballs on all sides yesterday (the beef and pork combo) – they had the ingredients mentioned by everyone above except no ricotta and today I cooked them in the gravy/sauce for over an hour. And they were rare in the middle. WTF? should I have let them come to room temp first? should I have let the gravy/sauce come to a simmer first? Well at least I didn’t overcook the pasta and the gravy/sauce still had the slow cooked taste I was looking for.
    I was hoping to find a recipe for Frankies 457 meatballs…when I had them they were the best, perhaps only to be surpassed by the ones at Bar Stuzzichini .
    I have that Cooks Illustrated cookbook and the Mark Bittman…I’ll try again, next fall perhaps.

    • 5

      Christina said,

      Hmm, how strange. I really don’t have an answer, although your sauce probably should have been at a simmer when you added the meatballs. But an hour really should have been enough to cook them through. I tend to cook mine almost all the way through during the browning phase; by the time I add them to the sauce it’s just so they impart a bit of bit flavor to it. I can’t recommend the Cook’s Illustrated recipe enough–it’s perfect every time.

      I think Food & Wine published a recipe for Frankie’s meatballs a few years ago. Here is the link:

      In any case, their cookbook should be coming out soon, and I am so excited about it!

      • 6

        Benita said,

        Thank you Christina! My mom told me that my Sicilian neighbor from my childhood apt. building in Queens would put raisins in her meatballs, so the currants and pine nuts make sense and marjoram is underutilized in my kitchen…these will be fun to try….and my sauce will definitely be simmering next time. It is actually the flavors of that neighbor’s sauce and meatballs that I am hoping to capture one day.
        And one cannot have too many cookbooks especially if the authors share the secrets of the great food served in their restaurants. Hope the polenta is included in their cookbook too.

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