Grandma’s Italian meatball recipe is the ultimate comfort food dish to share with the family! Tender and juicy meatballs are simmered in a simple yet rich tomato sauce and placed over spaghetti noodles or the pasta of your liking.
On our wedding day, I made a very special vow to my husband… “I promise always to nurture, listen, comfort, and feed you, making sure to cook your grandmother’s famous meatballs at least once a month.”
It may seem like a silly promise. However, my husband Jason’s love for his Grandma’s Italian meatball recipe always brings him a sense of comfort and happiness. For me to be able to recreate a dish that he loves is important to me. When he walks through the door at the end of a long day and smells fresh tomato sauce simmering on the stove and meatballs broiling in the oven, his big smile is priceless!
I have an inkling that part of the reason Jason chose to marry me is that cooking is my passion, which means he would be well fed!
When we first moved in together, I asked him one evening what he wanted me to cook for dinner, and he said his grandma’s meatballs. We gave Grandma Rose a call for the details. Like most Italian recipes there were no specific measurements just a simple list of ingredients and method for the sauce and meatballs, the rest was intuition!
I’ve made beef and pork meatballs many times over the years. Some turned out great, some not so much to boast about. I never actually wrote a recipe down, so it was different every time especially going by “feel” of the mixture. I was on a mission to get as close to Grandma’s Italian meatball recipe, with a tough critic to please, the hubby.
To make ground meat extra moist and tender, a Panade can be added to the mixture. A panade is a mixture of starch and liquid; any combination of starch (bread, panko, crackers) and liquids (milk, buttermilk, yogurt, stock, water) can be used. Varying the combination of panade ingredients can add more or less flavor depending on your taste preference.
On this attempt, my husband told me these were the best meatballs I’ve ever made, not too shabby for ten years of experimenting! The texture is the most critical part of nailing the recipe. The right ratio of meat-to-breadcrumb and fat for flavor is crucial. If there are too little or too many breadcrumbs, the texture is off (tough or spongy).
I found that a ratio of 1 pound beef, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, and 1 egg is perfect. I prefer using an 80% lean beef to 20% fat for my meat. This ratio gives a nice rich flavor and meaty texture without being too tough. The consistency is easy to cut through remains fork tender. For a gluten-free recipe, you can use a GF-friendly variety bread mix or omit altogether and use almond flour.
The spaghetti sauce is straightforward. High quality crushed tomatoes and flavor infused from the meatballs slowly simmered in the tomato sauce. Jason never forgets to remind me that the sauce needs to be thick so that it can cling to the noodles. He also has an uncanny instinct to tell when spaghetti is cooked perfectly and al dente. My husband is a meatball and sauce connoisseur, the supreme judge to ensure anything Italian is prepared just right in our kitchen!
More meatball recipes you might like
- Chicken Florentine Meatballs
- Slow Cooker Meatballs with Vegetable Noodles
- Coconut Curry Meatballs with Vegetable Noodles
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #jessicagavin on Instagram. I’d love to see what you come up with. Cheers, friends!
How can I prevent my meatballs from shrinking?
When the muscle fibers of meat proteins are ground into smaller pieces, sticky soluble proteins are released when cut and strongly hold the meat together. After the meat is mixed and then cooked, the proteins tighten and contract which causes large amounts of moisture to be squeezed out. This often results in meatballs reducing in size and becoming dry or tough if breadcrumbs or a panade is not added to the mixture.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup yellow onions , minced
- 4 garlic cloves , minced
- 7 cups crushed canned tomatoes , (Cento Brand imported from Italy or San Marzano tomates), 56 ounces
- 6 ounces tomato paste , use less if a thinner consistency is desired
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt , add more to taste
- 2 pounds ground beef , (80% lean meat to 20% fat)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cloves garlic , finely minced
- 1/2 cup yellow onion , finely minced
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese , freshly grated
- 1 cup breadcrumbs , (grandma recommends Italian style, but plain okay)
- fresh basil , (for garnish if desired)
- Heat olive oil over medium low heat and sauté onion and garlic until onions are translucent, 3 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and stir well. Add tomatoes and simmer 30 minutes.
- Season tomato sauce with salt to taste.
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix using your hand.
- Cook a small test piece, taste for the correct seasoning level, correct seasoning if needed.
- Roll meatballs to the size of a large egg, about 3 ounces in weight.
- Line a baking sheet with foil. Evenly space the meatballs on the sheet.
- Set the oven rack to the lower-middle position.
- Broil and cook the meatballs until browned, about 10 minutes, then turn over. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Add meatballs to the tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for at least 1 ½ hours, checking and stirring every 20 minutes, or as needed.
- Remove the meatballs from the sauce into a separate bowl, cover to keep warm. Mix the sauce; adjust consistency with small amounts of water if too thick. Correct seasoning if needed.
- Garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
You can adapt this recipe for a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the sauce ingredients to the slow cooker and broiled meatballs. Cook on high 3 hours, or 6 hours on low.
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