These meatballs, made by my paternal grandmother, Josephine, were so coveted that the family would gather by the dozens when they were being served.
Josephine (Romeo) Della Vecchia came from Calabria – the southern tip of Italy. Meatballs, or polpette were common there (and still are) and simple to make. Most likely they were half bread, half meat to extend the protein as a vestige of leaner times. The stunningly delicious recipe she made was passed down from her mother, and she made batches of 48 when cooking them. Her secret to making the meatballs was lots and lots of pecorino cheese and saving the oil they were cooked in to ladle into the sauce. The only variation I do is replace the dried spices she used with fresh.
Traditionally, meatballs in Italy are served as the second course – after pasta – not on top of it like our spaghetti and meatballs. But my family loves them with spaghetti so that is the way I do it. My cousin Grant looked over our grandmother’s shoulder one Sunday in 1989 and meticulously took notes on the recipe, and that is what we have here today.
One word on meatballs and sauce: never sauce them until the last minute. Don’t drop them into a pot of boiling sauce and let them stew. You will lose that beautiful crust they acquired when being fried. Flavor your sauce with the oil the meatballs were cooked in.
If you have a variation to let us know about, feel free to comment!
Ingredients (makes 48 meatballs)
4 pounds ground round (you can also mix in pork if you like).
12 eggs (3/lb)
4 cups of white bread, crust removed, and soaked in milk for a few minutes, then squeezed to get rid of excess moisture (1 cup wet bread/lb)
4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups grated pecorino romano cheese (1/2 cup/lb)
olive oil for frying
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add all the spices, garlic, cheese and parsley, and beat thoroughly.
- Add in the meat and mix with your hands thoroughly. Add in the soaked bread and mix in thoroughly.
- Roll into balls a little bigger than golfballs – 12 per pound.
- In a large fry pan cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil.
- Fry the meatballs on medium high until they develop a nice crust. Flip over to fry the other side. Cook until the meatballs “stay on a fork”.
- When they are finished, move to a plate and drizzle some of the cooking oil over the top of them. Serve alongside pasta with sauce ladled on top of them just before serving.