Italian-American meatballs in red sauce

Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic Italian-American dish, introduced by Italian immigrants in New York City sometime in the early 20th century. This dish differed significantly from the meatballs prepared back in the motherland. In Italy, meatballs known as polpette were much smaller, often no larger than the size of a marble. Unlike the Americanized version, these meatballs were usually served alone or with soup. The dish of large meatballs drenched in tomato sauce, and eaten with plentiful portions of pasta, was a product of immigrants increasing wealth and access to meat and canned tomatoes. Thats the good ol American dream for ya.


We are evidently on a pasta streak this week. This weekend, we had a craving for spaghetti so decided to prepare some accompanied with juicy and tender Italian-American meatballs in red sauce.


Adapted from Serious Eats.

Servings: 16 small-medium meatballs | Prep time: 30 minutes | Ready time: 1 hour 30 minutes


  • 1 packet unflavoured gelatin
  • cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups fresh white bread, crusts removed and cut into inch cubes
  • cup buttermilk, plus more as needed
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, plus more for serving
  • cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, minced
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 ounces fatty pancetta, finely minced
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 5 cups tomato sauce


1) In a heatproof measuring cup, sprinkle gelatin all over surface of stock and let stand for 5 minutes. Microwave stock, stirring once or twice, until gelatin completely dissolves, about 2 minutes. Pour stock into a wide heatproof bowl and refrigerate until fully set, about 30 minutes.

2) In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine bread with buttermilk, tossing to coat. Let stand, tossing occasionally, until bread is completely moist, about 10 minutes. Squeeze bread between your fingers or mash with a spoon to make sure there are no dry spots; if there are dry spots that refuse to moisten, add more buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time until bread is moist throughout.

3) Add onion, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley, salt, pepper, pancetta, egg yolks, oregano, and fennel to bread and buttermilk mixture. Finely mince gelled stock and add to mixture.

4) Set mixer bowl in stand mixer and attach paddle. Starting at low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, beat bread mixture until thoroughly blended, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Add each of the beef and pork and beat at medium-high speed until thoroughly blended with bread mixture.

5) Remove bowl from stand mixer and add remaining beef and pork. Using a clean hand, gently mix meatball mixture, teasing apart ground meat with your fingers, just until ground beef and pork are thoroughly distributed throughout. Avoid mixing any more than is necessary for even distribution.

6) Preheat broiler and set oven rack in upper position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Form meatball mixture into balls of preferred size and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Broil meatballs until browned on top, about 7 minutes.

7) Heat tomato sauce in a medium pot until simmering and add meatballs. Simmer until meatballs are just cooked through and register about 145F on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes.

8) Cook pasta as directed. Serve meatballs on top, spooning sauce all over and grating more cheese on top.

Notes from Mr. Chuckles

We opted for smaller meatballs, about 1 inch in diameter each, and ended up with over 16 meatballs. The ingredients can be reduced for a more manageable portion size.

Broil time can vary widely depending on the strength of your broiler. Next time, we will consider trying to brown the meatballs in the convection oven.

Buon appetito!