Spaghetti and Meatballs alla Nonna

Spaghetti And Meatballs Alla Nonna


These are Grandma's meatballs - okay not my Grandmothers, but they are still delicious. Milk-soaked bread is the secret to these tender and tasty meatballs, which are made with a mixture of beef, pork and veal.
  • Serves: 24 to 36
  • Active Time: 45 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr 30 mins
  • Views: 55,361
  • Success Rating: 100% (?)
    0% - I fed it to the dog


Step 1: Preparing the Mirepoix

• 1 large white onion
• 4 cloves garlic
• 2 to 4 tbsp fresh herbs (Italian parsley, basil)


To prepare the mirepoix, first finely mince the onion. Next, finely mince the garlic and fresh herbs.

Here you can add a bit of your personal flare. If you like Greek flavors, add a touch of oregano or if you like lots of garlic, add more…it’s up to you. Half Italian parsley and half basil is quite nice.

Step 2: Cooking the Mirepoix

• 2 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil


To cook the ingredients, sweat the onions in the oil until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Next, add the garlic and sweat for a few seconds. Then add the fresh herbs, toss to combine and remove from the heat to cool completely.

Step 3: Grating the Cheese

• 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (can use half percorino, if desired)


To grate the cheese, cut the Parmigiano into smaller pieces and pulse in a food processor until quite fine. Alternatively, you can simply grate the cheese using a hand grater.

Step 4: Soaking the Bread

• 4 slices thick-cut bread (approx. 2 cups)
• 1 cup milk


To prepare the bread, first remove the crust and then cut it into approximately 1" -inch cubes.

Next, slowly add the milk, making sure the bread gets evenly coated. Set the bread aside to soak for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, go ahead and prepare the meat.

Step 5: Preparing the Meat

• 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
• 3/4 lb ground pork
• 3/4 lb ground veal


To prepare the meat, gently mix together in a large bowl. Do not over-mix.

If you prefer, you can use more ground beef and less of the pork or veal. You can even leave out one (or both of them) and use strictly beef; again it’s up to you.

Step 6: Finishing the Bread


Once the bread is soft, gently squeeze out the excess milk. Squeeze small batches at a time so it’s easier to remove most of the excess milk.

Next, break up the bread a bit and add it to the meat. Discard the excess milk.

Step 7: Mixing the Meatballs

• 1 large egg
• 1 tbsp kosher salt
• 1 to 2 tsp chili flakes (optional)
• 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper


To mix the meat balls, add the cooled onion-garlic-herb mixture, followed by the grated cheese. Next, add the egg, chili flakes, salt and pepper and mix until just combined. Do not over-mix or the meatballs will be tough once cooked.

Step 8: Testing the Meatballs

• 1 tsp grapeseed or vegetable oil


Heat a small fry pan. Once hot, add the oil and cook the meatball until fully cooked through. Let cool slightly and taste. Adjust the seasoning of the mixture, if needed.

This is a great habit to get into. By cooking a tester, you will ensure your food has enough seasoning before you roll and cook all of the meatballs.

Step 9: Rolling the Meatballs


Line a tray with parchment or plastic wrap. Roll out the meatballs, trying to be as consistent with the size as possible. This will ensure they cook at the same rate.

Use a scale to measure out 2-ounce portions. You can roll larger ones and only serve one or two per person. Roll the meatballs whatever size you like. When done, you can either freeze them or proceed with the recipe.

Note: If freezing the meatballs, place them onto a tray. Leave a bit of space in between each one so they freeze separately. Once frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag. These meatballs freeze well for several weeks.

Step 10: Preparing the Tomato Sauce

• Tomato Sauce (approx. 3/4 cup per person)


Using a large, heavy-bottomed pot slowly heat the tomato sauce over medium-low heat.

Once it comes to a gentle boil, turn the heat to low and let it simmer while you finish the meatballs.

Step 11: Pan Frying the Meatballs

• grapeseed or vegetable oil, as needed


Pan frying the meatballs is a matter of preference; however, the browning will provide more flavor. If you do not want to pan fry the meatballs, simply add them straight to the tomato sauce and let simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until fully cooked through.

To pan fry the meatballs, make sure the pan is properly heated and then add just enough oil to lightly coat the pan. Add the meatballs and let cook on all sides until golden.

At this point, the meatballs can be finished either in the pan or they can be added to the sauce to finish cooking. They can even be finished in the oven if you like.

Step 12: Cooking the Pasta

• 6 L/qt cold water
• salt (1 tsp salt per L/qt of water)
• dried or fresh pasta (approx. 4 oz per person)


To cook the pasta, follow the cooking times on the package. Just be sure to use plenty of boiling, salted water, and cook until al dente (if using dried pasta).

The type of pasta you use is up to you. Typically, meatballs are served with spaghetti, but fettucinni or even fresh, hearty noodles, such as tagliatelle, would also be great.

If you are making your own pasta, try cutting the pasta sheets by hand. This will allow you to cut the pasta into nice big rustic noodles (i.e. pappardelle).

Chef's Notes

These meatballs freeze very well. This way, you will have delicious meatballs whenever the desire strikes! Simply thaw in the refrigerator and then cook.


  • Joe G Rouxbe Staff
    Joe G
    Just has this for lunch and all I can say is I wish there was more.
  • Jayne M
    Jayne M
    these are just like my husbands grandmothers meatballs and sauce. I love it.Nanny though used to cook her sauce overnight. But that is how they did it in the early 1900's.
  • Coco H
    Coco H
    Dawn, can we have video for making meatball? Hopefully :? Thanks
  • Angela F
    Angela F
    These are so good, and I am stunned how quickly the dish came together. I did find that the meatballs were really soft, so as I pan-fried them they would settle and form a flat surface. Once they were finished, they were all sorts of strange shapes, mostly odd-looking pyramids. Is there a secret to keeping them round?
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    The only "secret" I have to keeping my meatballs round is that when I first pan-fry them I gently roll them around almost constantly, just until they start to form a sort of a crust. After that they seem to hold their shape quite well. These are so good though, I wouldn't care if they were shaped like bunny rabbits :-) Hope this helps - Cheers!
  • Robert K
    Robert K
    I just made these (delicious... thanks for the recipe!) and used a melon baller to shape the meatballs. I used one with a hole on each of the scoops: I grabbed more of the meat mixture than I knew the mellon baller could hold and allowed the excess to 'moosh' out the holes when squeezing the baller closed. I used a regular table knife to scrape the excess meat off before releasing the balls onto the baking sheet. This not only resulted in meatballs perfectly uniform in size, but was very fast too!
  • Bill S
    Bill S
    I always place my meatballs in a one inch deep backing pan and place under the broiler. This way I don't mess up the stove top with splattered grease etc. and the meatballs stay perfectly round. You will have to take the pan out of the oven and turn them at the half way point.
  • Joann B
    Joann B
    Hi, Hopefully, you will make a video for this dish. Thank you JoAnn
  • Thurston H
    Thurston H
    One option to keeping the round shape of your meatballs is to "blanch" them briefly in a pot of high simmering water thus allowing the skin portion to cook and set the shape. Too high a boil could agitate the meatballs to a point where they begin to fall apart. After setting the shape remove from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer, pat dry completely!!! (Remember that moisture is the "enemy" of the browning process ie. "Maillard Reaction"-Low moisture levels are mainly necessary because water boils into steam at 212 Fahrenheit (100 Celsius), whereas the Maillard reaction happens noticeably around 310 Fahrenheit (155 Celsius): by the time something is in fact browning, all the water is vaporized). Once dry continue with your favorite cooking process.
  • Anne G
    Anne G
    I served this last night and it was a huge hit. It was the first time I have ever used canned tomatoes without citric acid and I am amazed by the difference (that bit of info alone was worth the tuition!). I can't believe I have been cooking all these years and didn't know how to choose quality canned tomatoes. I made the mistake of confusing price and reputation with quality. Thanks for setting me straight. Question: I have several cans of Muir Glen Organic Brigade tomatoes in my pantry. The lable says they have "naturally derived citric acid." Is there any difference between "naturally derived citric acid" and just plain citric acid? Thanks for your help...and thanks for this fabulous recipe!
  • Tony M Rouxbe Staff
    Tony M
    Not sure what Muir Glen means by this...except I suppose they DON'T use chemically made citric acid. I've used their tomatoes with success. But, again, if citric acid has to be used, whether naturally derived or not, means the tomatoes lacked the right sugar content to preserve WITHOUT citric acid. However, some tomato types and areas they are grown may require citric acid for safe canning.
  • K A
    K A
    This is the first time I make meatballs and they taste really great, honestly I don't usually care much about meatballs but those where actually magnificent!! I think the problem is that I ate a lot of bad ones ;D. I have a lot of leftover meatballs that I didn't use and I froze it, is there a proper way to cook them from the freezer?? should I thaw them first ??
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    I often freeze raw meatballs. For the best color, I think it is best to thaw them first and then fry them. If they seem quite wet once thawed then maybe just roll them around on a sheet or two of paper towel before frying. So glad you like these meatballs Khaled, enjoy the leftovers. It's nice to have a delicious dinner already made isn't it - cheers!
  • Jim B
    Jim B
    Most Citric Acid used as commercial preservative is manufactured from corn. Maybe the Muir Glen "naturally derived" comes from citrus or cherries. Although the mass-produced stuff is a corn product, its chemically the same. I think this is mainly marketing.
  • Jim B
    Jim B
    I finally had the chance to prepare these, and they truly are amazing. In addition to the dozen or so we had last night, I now have four dozen in the freezer waiting for use. My gal said, "So, I can take some for lunch tomorrow?" I did substitute pork sausage for ground pork, doubled the beef in lieu of veal, and used commercially ground Parmesan. While these certainly didn't hurt the flavor, I'm looking forward to the next batch. Now for my question. What is the difference between Cilantro and Italian Parsley? Thanks for another great recipe and learning opportunity!
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    Good question Jim; while these two herbs may look alike their tastes are completely different. Cilantro, which is actually the leaf of a coriander plant, has a very strong aroma and unique taste. It is commonly used in South American and Asian cuisine. Italian flat leaf parsley has a more mild flavor. For me, Italian parsley has more a neutral flavor and because of that it is more versatile (like I said, "to me"). Buying them can sometimes be confusing as they are generally right next to each other at the grocery store. Cilantro leaves are generally a bit rounder than the leaves of Italian parsley. Of course you can always just pick up the bunch and smell it, you usually always tell whether it's cilantro just by the smell. If you are still confused Jim, buy a bunch of each the next time you go to the store...after trying each of them you will not longer wonder what the difference is! Hope this helps! p.s. Really glad you liked the spaghetti and meatballs!!
  • Hesham K
    Hesham K
    I just bought a pasta machine and some organic beef and pork. I'm going to make pasta and these meatballs for dinner! I'm so stoked.
  • Hesham K
    Hesham K
    I was not let down. Making laminated pasta at home produced something entirely different than what I'm used to. The results were absolutely fantastic. These meatballs were so moist and flavoursome. I opted to pan fry and then finish them in the sauce (I used some local organic canned tomatoes, without citric acid of course). Also awesome is that it's a large recipe, so you'll (probably) be left with leftovers.
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    I am so glad you liked it Hesham...nice work!!! Also wanted to let you know that the meatballs freeze very well. Cheers!
  • Memoria J
    Memoria J
    Why is this recipe under the category of video recipes if there is no video for it? Despite that issue, I hope to try out this recipe. Can one freeze the meatballs after cooking them?
  • Kimberley S Rouxbe Staff
    Kimberley S
    These meatballs are delicious! If you plan to freeze them, it is better to shape them while the meat mixture is still raw. Lay them out on a parchment-lined tray and freeze them raw. Transfer to a plastic freezer bag. Let them thaw in the refrigerator before cooking/proceeding with the recipe. You can freeze them after cooking, but during reheating, they may tend to dry out and be tougher. It is best to thaw them from their raw state and cook them as you need them. Yes, this particular recipe is a text-only recipe and does not have a supporting, step-by-step video. There are 3 categories of recipes under the Video Recipes heading: Rouxbe Videos, Rouxbe Certified Text Recipes, and Test Kitchen Recipes/user-generated recipes. Rouxbe Certified Recipes do not have step-by-step instructions; most do, however, contain supporting drill-downs or tip videos attached to them. Most text recipes usually support particular Cooking School lessons so students can apply what they have learned in the video lesson to the text recipe. If a particular concept has been learned, no further video should be required. Hope this helps/clears things up. Cheers!
  • Aparna S
    Aparna S
    Hi, I am a new student but have been cooking Indian food for my family for over 20 years.I tried this recipe using the Soy (tofu) chunks instead of the meat in the meatballs and it was a great hit. I followed the recipe as described with only one exception. I microwaved the Tofu meatballs after shaping it in the recipe for 2 minutes before pan frying it. This step prevented it from falling apart while frying. This turned out to be a great alternative for non-meat eating vegetarians. Aparna
  • Diana S
    Diana S
    I can't wait to try the meatball recipe. Sounds a lot like my mother's recipe. I always like to use the Italian tomatoes in my sauce. I'll let you know how I do with the meatballs. Thanks, Diana
  • Jeffrey B
    Jeffrey B
    Roll the meatballs in additional breadcrumbs, then bake at 400F for 20 minutes. Easier than frying, the meatballs don't fall apart, they still brown, but instead of adding fat, some of it cooks out.
  • Donna R
    Donna R
    Ilove this idea. What do you think staff?
  • Kimberley S Rouxbe Staff
    Kimberley S
    I haven't done this myself but you sure could give it a try. Just make sure they are cooked through. Cheers!
  • Franklin G
    Franklin G
    These were among the best meatballs I've ever had. I did have one minor issue: When browning them, I had some problems with them sticking to the pan (despite using the "mercury ball" test to ensure the pan was hot enough). Would a non-stick pan be better? I was worried that non-stick would not brown the meat as well, but I had some minor breakage due to sticking with the regular pan. Any other suggestions? Despite that one minor problem, these were amazing. I'll be making a double batch for freezing this weekend! Last question: A comment above said that these would keep for "several weeks" in the freezer. If I cryo-vac them will they keep longer? If so, should I do that when they are raw, or after the initial freeze on the sheet tray? Thanks as always for a great website!
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    Sounds like you may have just needed to use a bit more oil when cooking the meatballs. You could also use a non-stick pan if you like. If cryovacing the meatballs it may be easier to do it once they have been frozen so that they don't get squished from the pressure. As for whether or not cryovacing will extend the freezer life of the meatballs, the answer is yes. In this case, the meatballs should last for several months. Hope that helps and glad you liked the meatballs. Cheers!
  • Kariman H
    Kariman H
    Can I store meatballs in the freezer after cooking? If yes then for how long?
  • Kariman H
    Kariman H
    And I mean after cooking in the tomato sauce.
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    Yes, leftovers can be frozen for a few months. Cheers!
  • Kariman H
    Kariman H
    Thanks :)
  • Rattana K
    Rattana K
    I didn't make this recipe yet, but most all of recipes and all kind of tecniqs is great! I love to eat.....I love to cook....I love to bake and I do almost everyday. I never had the problam yet....that is the good sign. Thank you very much to all of you guys.
  • Charlena P
    Charlena P
    I am running low on spaghetti but i have plenty linguine. It this a good pasta to replace spaghetti? Or how about mixing them?
  • Dawn T Rouxbe Staff
    Dawn T
    I do not recommend mixing different pastas, as they will cook at different rates, which means you would have to cook them separately. Also, it is better to have one consistent type and texture of pasta for a pasta dish. But then again, there are no absolute rules so you are free to experiment and try it if you like. As for whether or not you can use linguine instead of spaghetti the answer is yes. I encourage to watch the lesson on "How to Cook Pasta" (in particular topic 7 "Matching Pasta with Sauces" as this is covered in that topic). Hope this helps. Cheers!
  • Matthew B
    Matthew B
    I made a change the second time - I cooked the meatballs at 425 degrees for 20 minutes in a convection oven - and then browned them in a skillet with olive oil. Cooking them first (in my experience) made them hold their shape allot better and easier to brown to get the nice crispy bits on the exterior. Happy New Year! Matthew
  • Mark M
    Mark M
    Hey there, These were amazing, I baked them first and then browned them in the pan and they worked out great just as Matthew had said earlier I followed the recipe and ensured I did not work the meat too much when combining the ingredients, as the recipe indicated the meatballs would be tough. Just trying to figure out what the reasoning behind this is and exactly what it is about working the raw meat too much that would cause them to turn out not as tender? Also, when I transferred them from the baking sheet to the heated pan which I had heated the oil in, they splattered quie a bit as if there was a bunch of water. My pan was dry, should i have patted the meatballs a bit to remove any excess oil/moisture before adding them to brown the outside? I froze half of them for next time as they made quite a few as well. Thanks Mark
  • Kimberley S Rouxbe Staff
    Kimberley S
    When forming meatballs, hamburgers, etc, if you pack the meat and force it together the result will be very dense. If you are gentle with it and you do not use a lot of force, the they will have a softer texture. After baking, you could transfer the meatballs to a tray lined with paper towel to absorb some of the excess moisture before you pan fry them, but I would avoid patting them dry so you don't pull out all of moisture and flavor. You could also pan fry the meatballs first to brown them and then finish cooking them in the oven. Cheers!
  • Andrew I
    Andrew I
    Hi, I have some "Italian bread crumbs" i need to use can i use them instead of bread in this recipe, if so how much.
  • Kimberley S Rouxbe Staff
    Kimberley S
    Dried bread crumbs would likely disintegrate once the milk is added. It is best to use bread. The texture of the bread keeps the meatballs nice and soft. If you want to try crumbs, you can moisten maybe 1/2 cup with a bit of milk but it will likely affect the texture. I'd wait until you have some bread on hand. Cheers!
  • Aldo H
    Aldo H
    Can i use this recipe to make burguers ? i think would be awsome in burguers
  • Ken R Rouxbe Staff
    Ken R
    I'm not sure who would stop you or tell you it wasn't allowed, Aldo. At Rouxbe, we want you to gain confidence. So...go for it, just be careful with temperature control as it will cook differently than just ground meat (i.e. it has the soaked breadcrumbs, etc. added). Have fun and let us know how it worked out for you. Cheers.
  • Aldo H
    Aldo H
    I Will try it.....:) thanks i Will do it to the right temperature

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