Mary Ann's Blog

Your Mother’s Meatballs…Perfected

Who invented the meatball? That’s like asking who invented pasta. We will never know. “Recipes” from long ago happened by accident and utilized the wit and whim of the cook and what was on hand. And so it must be with meatballs.

What we do know is that just about every country has them from the familiar buffet table Swedish meatballs to the little known meatballs (frikadeller) from Denmark that are made with pork, flour and club soda!

Today, the humble meatball has gone gourmet. From stuffed meatballs oozing exotic cheeses and even truffles, to crisp and crunchy panko fried meatballs. And although there is a litany of meatball types from around the world, the most famous and familiar of them all has got to be Italian meatballs.

Now you may be thinking: who can’t make Italian meatballs? Well, that depends a lot on how you approach making them. Here are some pointers for making great tasting, moist meatballs just like Mom’s.

  1. Use a combination of ground meats for flavor and texture; chuck is good for taste, pork for fat and veal for texture. Use a ratio of 1/3 pound each.
  2. For added moistness use ricotta cheese, mashed avocado or fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk. Do not use flavored, dry boxed bread crumbs. They are medicinal tasting and will ruin the taste of your meatballs.
  3. Use fresh garlic, not garlic powder.
  4. Use freshly grated REAL Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Boxed imitation cheese from the grocery store will do nothing but disappoint.
  5. Use fresh flat leaf Italian parsley including the stems which have lots of flavor. Curly parsley has a less intense flavor.
  6. Use only egg yolks; they add moistness while whites add dryness. Beat the yolks before adding to the ingredients; it will be easier to combine with the meat mixture.
  7. Use fine sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, often called “butcher’s pepper” for better flavor
  8. Do not over-mix; use wet hands to combine the ingredients
  9. Fry a small spoonful first in a small skillet to gauge seasoning before you form all the balls.
  10. Bake, do not fry for a lighter, healthier taste
  11. Form the meatballs between wet hands into tight compact balls that will not collapse when baked. 
  12. Bake at a lower temperature (325F) to help maintain shape.

Mom’s Meatballs

 ½ cup fresh.fine textured  breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1/3 pound ground chuck
1/3 pound ground pork
1/3 pound ground veal
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten with a fork
Fine sea salt to taste
Grinding coarse black pepper to taste

Place the breadcrumbs in a small bowl and stir in the milk; allow them to sit for 5 minutes, then stir to combine well and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, add the chuck, pork, veal, parsley, garlic, cheese, egg yolk, salt and pepper and the moistened breadcrumbs.

Mix everything with wet hands just until combined. Fry a small spoonful in a frying pan and taste for seasoning.

Use wet hand to form golf ball size meatballs and place them on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 325F oven until the meatballs are browned and an instant read thermometer inserted into one of them registers 165F.

Serve as is or add to your favorite tomato sauce. 

Recipe from Ciao Italia Family Classics by Mary Ann Esposito


  1. Lisa's avatar


    My mom, grandmother, and great grandmother used to place the meatballs into the gravy raw and let them cook right in the gravy. No pre-baking or pre-frying. Have you ever made them that way? Why would you or would you not recommend cooking meatballs this way?
  2. Nonni's avatar


    I cook them in the sauce too. Much better that way. Tender meatballs!
  3. Paula Tomacchio's avatar

    Paula Tomacchio

    Frying or baking them adds a bit more flavor to the meatballs and the sauce. It's your personal preference. When frying, you only have to get a caramelized crust on the outside and finish cooking in the sauce. Unless, of course, you have some fresh Italian bread nearby...the you'd want to cook a few to eat plain.
  4. Carol's avatar


    Always hate mymeatballs and cannot recreate my Mom’s recipe! Cant wait to try these! Thanks!
  5. Vicki's avatar


    I always use whole eggs. Next time I will try the yolks only. I might try ricotta too!
  6. Judy's avatar


    This is my exact recipe, actually my mother-in-laws that I learned back in 1957 when I first got married, only my sauce is more updated, depending on my mood and time I've baked, fried and just put them in sauce raw. Also use same recipe for my lasagna and Italian wedding soup except smaller naturally.
  7. Joanne S.'s avatar

    Joanne S.

    I use milk instead of ricotta, whichever is handy, is fine. I also add a GRATED onion on a box grater, it allows the flavor and juicy moistness to permeate the meatball w/o any bits of onion on the tongue. I like Romano cheese over Parm for this, bc meat is bland and Romano is more assertive where it is needed. Romano is less expensive too. Like another reviewer stated, I also add the raw meatballs to sauce. I feel baking or frying them loses moisture into the pan and not in the sauce where it helps to flavor the sauce! I usually freeze the meatballs first before adding them to the sauce and stir gently at times with a wooden spoon until they 'set.' 👍
  8. nancy m's avatar

    nancy m

    i fry my meatballs (very similar recipe) in vegetable oil then use some of that oil to brown the rest of my gravy meat (pork and/or beef bracciole, sausage, large chunk of beef and/or pork). i remove the meat and then i add a little olive and saute sliced onion i used to leave the onion in the gravy but now i remove it before i add the tomatoes. the sauteed onion can be added to other dishes for flavor...i even use them with steak or hamburgers.
  9. Joe Packi's avatar

    Joe Packi

    I find that soaking the bread crumbs in milk makes the whole mixture too soft and therefore hard for me to roll the balls.
    I also drop them right into the sauce. Frying and baking makes extra work and extra cleaming
  10. John's avatar


    I agree Paula Tomacchio, this is the happy medium to cooking great meatballs, I think.
    Y'all are making me hungry for a meatball Sammich :) (I love that word!)
  11. sherwin begoun's avatar

    sherwin begoun

    Hi Maryann
    Helluva bridge in modica!!!!

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