Tender Meatballs


This recipe for meatballs from Rao’s restaurant in New York has been appearing on various sites for a while now. It was also included in Food52’s collection of Genius Recipes. I finally got around to trying it this week.

The recipe is fairly labor intensive, and depends on things like fresh breadcrumbs and freshly grated Pecorino Romano, but it does produce light, tender meatballs. Don’t be daunted by the addition of two cups of lukewarm water. It really does work.

I made my own simple marinara sauce, but if you prefer to use a jarred sauce, seek out Rao’s sauce. It’s the best you can buy on a grocery shelf. Most jarred sauces are sugar laden; Rao’s is not.


1 pound ground beef ( I used 85% lean)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
2 eggs
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano (freshly grated produces much more intense flavor)
1 1/2 TBS chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
kosher salt/ freshly ground pepper
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs ( critical addition)
2 cups lukewarm water
olive oil for frying
marinara sauce


1. Combine the meats in a large bowl. Add the cheese, eggs, garlic, and parsley. The recipe doesn’t indicate specific amounts of salt and pepper. Start with about a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Remember that there’s a cup of cheese in the mix. Mix with your hands. Messy, but effective.
2. Add the breadcrumbs. Fresh is critical here because you want the breadcrumbs to act like little sponges to absorb the liquid. Best bet is to grind up cubes of bread in a food processor.
3. Add the water, one cup at a time, until to have a very moist mixture. At this point, I took a small amount and cooked it in the microwave to check to see if it needed more salt. I added just a little more.
4. Using a regular size ice cream scoop, I formed about 24 meatballs. They will be very wet, but that’s okay.
5. Pan fry the meatballs in batches in olive oil ( about a cup) until both sides are brown and slightly crispy. Drain on paper towels.
6. Slide the meatballs into warm marinara sauce. Simmer for about 15 or 20 minutes until fully cooked. Serve over pasta.

Yes, these meatballs require a fair amount of work and frying makes a mess, but the meatballs are really good. The recipe makes about 24 three inch meatballs. They freeze well, so unless you’re feeding a crowd, you’ll get more than one meal out of your efforts.



About Mary Jane

I am a retired English teacher. My husband, Frank, and I have lived on Cape Cod since 2000. I am a lifelong bread baker and writer and have been posting a blog on Falmouth Patch for the last few years. Savory Seasons has been largely devoted to recipes and food in general. I am hoping to expand my focus in this new blog.
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1 Response to Tender Meatballs

  1. I made these a couple of times and was amazed at adding the water, but it absorbed in. My husband couldn’t believe I’d put two cups in the meatball mix. And yes, they were tender.

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