For years when I was growing up, my brothers and I would take turns requesting spaghetti with meatballs for our birthday dinners.

The birthday child got two, maybe even three meatballs, and everyone else, one less. Such a humble beginning with the simplest of ingredients — leftover fat and meat — to create something so comforting and cozy.

In my family, we’ve begun to mess around with ingredients other than the standard ground beef — spinach, assorted cheeses, pork, cooked meats from previous meals, pancetta, prosciutto, homemade bacon, etc. What we’ve found is that even when you swank up a meatball, it’s still a meatball and therefore doesn’t lose an ounce of comfort in the process.

My guess is that like a good number of dishes, meatballs began with the question posed by the cook, “Now, what do I do with all of these meat scraps?” This is certainly how meatballs come to be on the menu of a good number of restaurants, where the scraps that come from breaking down whole sides or even primal cuts of meat should not go to waste.

Making the assumption that you don’t happen to have scraps left over from a side of beef hanging around, I’ve just begun with ground beef in the recipe.

If you’d like, however, to try your hand at grinding your own meat, a good ratio to begin with is half pork shoulder, half beef chuck and 10 percent pork fat.

Some tips on making great meatballs:

Use day-old bread to make bread crumbs right before mixing to give a much better texture. Tear bread into bite-sized pieces and then pulse it in a food processor several times to break into crumbs.

When mixing the meat with the rest of the ingredients, don’t overwork the mixture. That will create dry, tough meatballs. The mixture should be moist and tacky.

Use an ice cream scoop or melon baller to shape the balls so they are uniform.

Watch for overcooking. Whether roasting or braising, cook just until cooked through, which you can see when the meatball is pierced with a fork and the juices run clear, not red or pink.


If you’d like to plan ahead for a meal that’s quick and easy to get to the table, double the recipe and freeze half.

The meatballs freeze better separate from the sauce, but when we’ve had leftover sauce and balls, they’ve done OK too.

The cheese ends up leaching out of the meatballs upon reheating and ends up slightly clumpy in the sauce, so the more gently you reheat the sauce, the better.

If you really want to plan ahead, leave the cheese out of half the meatballs and only freeze the cheese-free ones.

11/2 pounds ground beef

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or parsley

1 large clove garlic, minced

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 egg

1/4 pound (4 ounces) whole milk mozzarella, cut into 12 small squares (or 8 ounces grated if you are making meatball subs)

4 cups of your family’s favorite marinara sauce

Fettuccini for 4 to 6

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients (except the mozzarella) by squishing with your hands. Using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, form into 12 evenly shaped balls.

Press a square of cheese into the center of a ball and use your fingers to pinch the ball firmly closed. Place the finished balls onto a roasting pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the outside of the meatballs are beginning to brown.

Bring your family’s favorite marinara sauce to a simmer and add the meatballs, combining gently. Serve over cooked fettuccini.

Makes 12 meatballs; serves four to six.


You can also use the above recipe for meatball subs. Instead of inserting cubes of cheese into the meatballs, grate it and reserve for the top of the subs.

Use a melon baller or a No. 40 scoop to form 36 meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.

This recipe serves eight to 12 people, or makes enough to freeze half. I figure if you are going to go through the trouble of making all of it from scratch, you deserve a freebie for a future dinner. Cool first and then freeze.


1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon kosher salt

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Cornmeal for dusting

Combine the yeast, salt and flour in a large bowl. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, reserving 1/4 cup water. Add more water if needed. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes by hand or 3 to 4 minutes with a dough hook.

Oil a bowl and the top of the dough, cover, and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide the dough in half, and shape them into long French-style loaves.

Dust a cookie pan with corn meal and place the loaves onto the pan. Cover and allow to rise again.

When the loaves have almost doubled, make three diagonal slashes on each loaf with a razor or very sharp knife.

Place the pans in the oven, throw 3 or 4 ice cubes into the bottom of the oven (or a pan set in the bottom of the oven) to generate steam, and quickly close the oven door. Bake until golden brown (about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the loaves).

Makes two loaves.

To assemble the subs:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring your family’s favorite marinara sauce to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the sauce and combine gently.

Place the loaves on a baking sheet. Cut a long wedge out of the top of the loaf by running a diagonal slice all the way around. Remove the tops, and turn them inside up onto the baking sheet.

Fill the “boats” that you’ve made with sauce and meatballs, giving each loaf an equal amount. Don’t skimp on the sauce, as the bread will absorb some of the liquid. Top the loaves with the 8 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 10 minutes to melt cheese. Remove from oven and cover the cheese with the tops of the loaves. Cut each loaf into 6 equal sandwiches.

Serves eight to 12.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at:

[email protected]