Mom's Recipe for Italian Mini Meatballs

Mom always made the best Italian meatballs. The ingredients she used were always fresh and she never measured anything. She would add freshly grated parmesan, finely chopped garlic and parsley, an egg or two, and a bit of dried bread crumbs. Then she would shape them into meatballs, throw them in the sauce and let it simmer for several hours. 

My approach to this classic dish is a bit different than my mom's. I like to cook the sauce for 20-30 minutes, or until it is thickened and slightly reduced, and then I add the meatballs. I let them simmer long enough until they are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. The fresh garlic flavour is still present when cooked for a short period of time, as opposed to when they are cooked for several hours, the flavour becomes mild.

Mom mostly used 1/2 beef, 1/2 pork, but occassionally she would also use veal (1/2 beef, 1/4 pork and a 1/4 veal). I like to make mine with 1/2 pork and 1/2 beef. Nowadays, it is always advised not to over mix the meat so it doesn't dry out. Mom never worried about that. It was (and still is) important that the ingredients were mixed well together. She always mixed with her hands, too. The mixture had to feel right. If the mixture felt wet than she would add more bread crumbs; if the mixture was too dry, then she would add another egg or a bit of milk. Her meatballs were never stiff, nor dry and always tender.

Mom was very particular about how to roll out the mini meatballs. Every girl in her hometown made them this way, and it was only natural that she would teach me the same method as well.

Here is how my mom taught me to make tiny meatballs ....

Mix the ingredients well with your hands until it looks homogeneous and it comes together to form a ball (similiar to dough). Then take a teaspoonful of the meat mixture and place it on the palm of your other hand. 

Using your index finger, evenly divide it into two pieces as best you can. Place one meatball on your middle finger (similiar to the picture above) and place the other meatball on the middle part of your palm. Now gently place your other hand on top and carefully roll a few times until it takes on a round shape. If the two pieces clump together, separate them again with your index finger and roll them again. When rolling with the other hand, use the top part of your palm to act as a 'barrier' in keeping the two pieces separate.

Now, this does take practise but feel free to roll them out one by one. Do whatever you feel comfortable with and works best for you. The ones I rolled were between 1 to 1.5 cm (1/2 to 3/4 of an inch), but you can make them bigger if you wish (it'll still taste the same). 

Once all the ground meat is used up, you can either use them up immediately in your favourite soup or sauce, or you can freeze them by placing them in a single layer on a freezer-proof dish, and freeze for several hours. Take them out of the freezer, let them stand a few minutes to slightly unthaw (about 5 minutes) and then separate them with your fingers or with the help of a knife. Throw them into a large ziploc bag, seal tightly, and store in the freezer until needed. I usually use mine within a few weeks, but I recommend using them within 3 months.

As I mentioned before, my mom always used to prepare everything without recipes. I came up with this version when I first moved to Europe back in 2007 and I have been using it ever since. It really captures the traditional and authentic taste of a true Calabrian Meatball. These tiny meatballs go well with either short or long pasta. :-)

If you give this recipe a try, I would love to hear how it went! Please let me know by leaving a comment below. :-)


1 lb (500g) ground meat (half beef, half pork)
1/3 cup (30g) grated parmesan or grana padana
1/3 cup (40g) dried plain bread crumbs
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
1 tbsp (5g) chopped fresh parsely
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

1. Using your hands, mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl until it looks homogeneous and it comes together to form a ball (similiar to dough). Don't be afraid of over mixing.

2. Scoop a teaspoonful of meat mixture, place it on your palm and evenly divide into two pieces with your index finger. Gently place your other hand on top and roll into 1/2" to 3/4" (1 to 1.5 cm) meatballs. You can also roll the meatballs one at a time and make them a bit bigger, if you wish. Continue rolling until the mixture is used up.

3. You can use them immediately in your favourite soup or sauce, or you can arrange them in a single layer on a freezer-proof dish and freeze for several hours until firm. Then transfer them to a ziploc bag and store them for up to 3 months in the freezer. No need to unthaw when you use them. Simply add to soup or sauce.

4. The meatballs can also be fried in a skillet or a frying pan until lightly browned on all sides. Don't Fry them too long or they will become tough.


(Adapted from mom's memory) :-)


In cucina con amore, Rosa

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Rosa G.
Hamburg, Germany
Hi! My name is Rosa and welcome to my blog! I'm a fun loving, most-of-the-time stressed mother of three small boys, and a former cubicle dweller turned pastry chef. I am an amateur blogger and food photographer and lover of good Italian food. My food is simple, fresh, and seasonal (with an occasional frozen pizza).