Dinner with Kirsten

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Mario’s Meatballs

February 10th, 2009 · 9 Comments


I love meatballs, but I hardly ever make them. Left to my own uninspired devices I’m more likely to quickly brown beef, add a jar of marinara sauce and call it dinner. It’s my Midwestern version of “Pasta Bolognese” – my “again!?” dinner that Geoff is continually forced to veto. So, I decided to put in some extra effort and make meatballs.

Mario Batali is my all-time favorite celebrity chef. I love his restaurants, his cookbooks and, when they were still on-air, I loved his cooking show, Molto Mario.  I remember him saying once that American meatballs were ruined by an over-abundance of wealth. In Italy, meatballs were invented to make meat stretch further when times were tough – cheaper ingredients like eggs and bread were added as fillers.

I was a little nervous about this recipe, because it really does include a lot of bread and eggs. But I was amazed when, just like Mario promised, the meatballs ended up being magically light, moist and delectable morsels. And, to add some complexity, toasted pine nuts were a crunchy and flavorful touch.

meatballs with meal

Mario warns that Italians would not normally serve meatballs with pasta, so I served these with mac and cheese and a salad. I figured I was okay, since most Italians probably wouldn’t count my Souffléd Mac and Cheese as a “pasta” dish. But next time I think I’ll ignore Mario’s instructions about this one detail, and have the spaghetti and marinara sauce ready.

Mario Batali’s Meatballs
Adapted from Molto Italiano, and also on FoodNetwork.com

3 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 pounds ground beef
3 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup pecorino, grated (I used parmesan cheese)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (be careful not to let them burn!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cover bread crumbs with water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain the bread cubes and squeeze out extra moisture.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, beef, eggs, garlic, cheese, parsley, pine nuts, salt, and pepper and mix by hand just until mixed (do not over-work the meat!). With wet hands, form the mixture into 12 to 15 large meatballs, each of a size somewhere between a tennis ball and a golf ball. (I went ahead and made mine a bit smaller, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting completely cooked through in a skillet.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, and cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tags: dinner · italian · recipes · weekend project

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Diana // Feb 14, 2009 at 11:59 am

    My mom always makes meatballs like this (minus the cheese and nuts) and its delicious. The photos look so yummy I’m glad I’m having meatballs for dinner tonight. :)

  • 2 Lindsay // Feb 25, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    That photo makes me want to fly through the screen and snatch up that plate! Yum. Speaking of Mario, did you see the article on nymag.com about him being one of the top notorious bachelors?

  • 3 Geneva // Jan 14, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe. It was very easy and delicious. Definitly a keeper!

  • 4 Snow Wolf // Jun 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Turns out they have the first season on Hulu.


  • 5 Brett // Dec 29, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Good recipe but this is incomplete. The ingredients are correct, the execution is not. After mixing the meatball mix Mario has a skillet filled with his basic tomato sauce. He brings the sauce to a slow boil. Then he adds the meatballs directly to the sauce. Covers and cooks the meatballs in this manner. He does not brown the meat. The reason he uses so much filler is to help bind the meatball together so they do not fall apart in the sauce. Add his final step and you will be in meatball heaven.

  • 6 cork // Jan 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    In addition to the acute observation of Bretts’—Mario also placed the raw meat recipe mixture into a mixer and let mix all ingredients on ‘low’ for 10 minutes. This provides a very smooth considtency and bite after they were simmered to doneness in his tomato sauce. Serve these as a meatball sandwich with crunchy vegetable topping, grated cheese on soft buns or slightly toasted onion rolls!!!!!

  • 7 Mary // Jan 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Saw Mario make these meatballs on GMA this past Friday…January 28, 2011. He had make crumbs out of the bread…he also added approximately one and one half cups of milk. He then mixed the ingredients in a mixer for ten minutes…….yes TEN minutes. Makes me want to make a batch this week.

  • 8 Luke // Feb 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I made these last night for the first time (Ground Dark Meat Turke)

    Unbelievable….I will never Fry Meatballs again. Pillows of Air best describes the delicate texture.

    Made these with Mario’s basic tomatoe sauce (30 min cook time) Amazing…

    Mario has an app for the IPad which is where I found this recipe and many others. Highly recomend it

  • 9 Holly // Oct 5, 2011 at 1:11 am

    I made these meatballs tonight and WOW they turned out great! They were so moist and tender.

    I made the recipe a little different though. I used milk to soak the bread and put it all in the mixture. I wanted a creamier mouthful.

    There’s another recipe floating around for his meatballs that call for nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. I added these spices to the mixture but would only use 1/8th tsp instead of 1/4 tsp. They still tasted good but gave more of a Mediterranean flavor.

    I didn’t have pine nuts so I left them out but will make it with them the next time.

    I happened to stumble upon a video demonstration by Mario himself that shows how he puts all the ingredients in a Kitchenaid and mixes for 10 minutes. Once done he forms the balls and drops them into rolling boil tomato sauce to cook. That’s right, no baking or browning. I suspect that this does a few things, 1) the meatballs are delicate and may not keep their shape when browned or bake, 2) putting them in the tomato sauce will give the sauce more depth of flavor, and 3) it adds to the tenderness and moisture of the meatball.

    Here is the link to his video:



    This recipe will be my standard meatball recipe. I still have some mixture left and am going to make Meatballs with Guinness Gravy with Kale and Mashed Potatoes. Yummy, I can’t wait.

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