October 8, 2017

Grandma's Meatballs


When my family gets together it means many things; laughter, dancing in the kitchen, good wine and lots of cooking and eating. And the one thing we always cook together is a big batch of my grandma's meatballs.

If she wasn't doing the chopping, mixing and cooking herself, she would be the chef, guiding us along and making sure we never over mixed! Since she passed away, making her meatballs keeps her memory alive and is always one of the highlights of our time together. They're full of fresh parsley, garlic and Parmesan, and even though the first ones out of the pan are scalding hot, we will happily burn our tongues eating a few because they're simply irresistible. And by the time the entire batch has been cooked and the pasta and sauce are ready to serve, we've usually eaten so many that we just want to go pass out in a meatball induced coma, but we somehow always find room for just one more. Overeating is inevitable, but we know that when the first meatball goes in the pan.

The family meatball recipe and tradition has passed from my great grandmother, who moved to the United States from Calabria in 1915, then on to my grandma, then to my dad and uncle, and on to me, my siblings and cousins, and now to my nieces and nephews, the oldest of which has become the official meatball and sauce maker at his fire station in California.


Over the years my dad has fiddled a bit with my grandma's recipe and will patiently spend hours slowly cooking his batches on the stove. They are divine! I've been somewhat successful replicating both his recipe and the exact one that my grandma dictated to me many years ago in her kitchen in Walla Walla, but have adapted mine to the ingredients I can find in France. For instance, both of their recipes call for Progresso breadcrumbs and curly leaf parsley. I use chapelure and flat leaf parsley. My dad uses less Parmesan than I do and 100% ground pork. I like more cheese and use a mix of pork and veal. Also, he fries his, which I sometimes do, if I have the time. 

A few years ago, after a friend in New Orleans told me that she always bakes her meatballs, I decided to give the baking thing a try. The results were ok, but not brilliant. I missed the beautiful, golden crust and soft interior that I got with my grandma's and dad's recipes, so I went back to frying. Then a couple of months ago I was at our neighborhood butcher and I spotted la farce for sale. I asked what is consisted of and when he told me it was half veal and half pork, I decided to try it for some meatballs.


It took me a few attempts to get them just right. The first time they were fabulous, the second time they came out dry and disappointing and the third time was a charm!
 They still require a bit of care. You can't just throw them in the oven for 30 minutes and come back to perfect meatballs. But you're not standing over a stove, patiently turning them for hours either.

Just one caveat: we have a ridiculous oven that only offers broiling, a microwave setting, a combination microwave/convection setting or plain convection, so the temperatures I had to work with are not what a normal oven would have. I've offered temperatures that I think will correspond with a normal oven. If you make these, I would love it if you would let me know how they worked for you!

Grandma's Baked Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground pork and veal. I used a 50/50 ratio
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 generous cup freshly grated Parmesan. I used a 3 year old wedge which is quite salty, so didn't add extra salt to the mix
  • minced garlic to taste. I use 5 large cloves
  • minced flat leaf parsley to taste - approx. 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 cup fine, dry bread crumbs, moistened with milk - make sure there no lumps and the crumbs are quite wet, almost runny

Preheat the oven to 200° C/400° F. 
Put all of the ingredients except the moistened bread crumbs in a bowl and mix gently with your hands.
Add the moistened bread crumbs and mix again, being careful not to over mix.
Shape into balls, about the size of an egg, and lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 10 minutes then gently turn the meatballs over.
Turn on the broiler to broil for 4 minutes.
Turn off the broiler and lower the heat to 175° C/350° F and bake for a further 10-12 minutes. After 10 minutes at 175° C/350° F, I cut into one and check to see if they are cooked all the way through. If not, add another minute or 2

Grandma's meatballs

I'm thrilled with the results because it means we can enjoy pasta, sauce and meatballs for lunch and I don't have to spend the entire morning standing over a stove. And I'm pretty sure that grandma would think they're delicious!


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Jena said...

I love the recipes passed down through the generations. Our family also has a sauce and meatball recipe that's really similar to this one, only we use ground beef. I'd be interested in tasting the difference mixing pork and veal.

Regine Karpel said...


clotilde said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for the recipe!

Jennifer Greco said...

Me too. :) If you make this version, please let me know how they turn out.


Thank you! I hope you have the chance to make them, and if you do, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Emm said...

Those look soooo good. I will try the recipe at some point, but first I have to get the oven fixed. :-)
(don't ask)

TheAwakenedSoul said...

That looks and sounds delicious! What a lovely blog you have here. I danced in Paris many years ago...

TheAwakenedSoul said...

I just made them with ground turkey. They are delicious! I fried them in olive oil, and they got nice and brown. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Next time I will use the meats that you listed.

Jennifer Greco said...

I hope you've gotten your oven fixed? :)

I'm so glad that you liked them! My grandma made them with ground turkey sometimes and they were good too.