Connie's Real Authentic Italian Meatballs
I heard about Connie's meatballs over 25 years ago, even before I was married to Meg. She told me they were the best meatballs she'd ever eaten. This is Connie's meatball recipe.
Connie is the mother of Susan, one of Meg's best friends. I've met Connie several times over the years and have asked her to share her meatball recipe with me after my own opportunity to try them. As usual for many home cooks, she said, "I don't have a recipe. I just make them as my mother taught me."
Well, a few years back, Susan watched her mom make them with a pad and pencil in hand and this recipe is the result of that afternoon. I've been sitting on this recipe for a while and just found it in my archive of mail from Susan.
Is It the Best Meatball Recipe?
Personally, I think Connie's meatballs are among the best I've ever enjoyed. Like mashed potatoes, I'm sure how your mom makes them is going to be the best but these are really good.
I'm also guessing it depends on where you are from, since I expect your favorite meatball recipe will likely be influenced by geography. Even in Italy, I imagine meatballs from the north will have different ingredients and flavor than those from the south.
A Little Meatball History
I bet you think meatballs must come from Italy. At least that's what I've always thought. But after a little research on the Internet, there are conflicting stories as to where meatball originated.
One site had them originating from Persia where they were prepared with leftover meat and called "kafta". These meatballs were made from a combination of ground beef, pork, chicken or lamb and combined with bulgur or mashed lentils.
Then there is a great article in The Atlantic called Not Your Grandmother's Meatball explaining that meatballs originated in Italy during the Roman empire. This comes from a collection of old recipes called "Apicius" dating back to the 4th or 5th century. They are called polpettes in Italy and range in size from marbles (polpettines) to 1-¾ inch diameter.
A Meatball By Another Name
Whether meatballs originated in Italy or Persia, you'll find them in just about every culture and called by a variety of names. Think about it. You have extra beef or veal or chicken, so what do you do? Grind it up, add some additional ingredients, a few herbs and spices and voila, you have a meatball. Here are some variations of meatballs from other countries.
- Italy - polpettes
- Denmark - frikadeller
- Sweden - köttbullar
- Germany - Königsberger klopse
- China - wanzi or lion's heads
- Russian - tefteli
- Spain - albondigas
- South Africa - skilpedjies
- Netherlands - bitterballen
- France - boulettes de viandes
Spaghetti and Meatballs
In America when you think meatballs, you most likely associate them with spaghetti. Right? Spaghetti and Meatballs.
This may be true in the United States, but in Italy most restaurants don't serve meatballs with pasta. Spaghetti and meatballs is an American invention.
In Italy, meatballs are considered more "peasant" food and reserved for home cooking. Italians eat multiple courses with pasta being the first course followed up by a meat course which could include meatballs.
It is most likely that meatballs were brought to America by Italian immigrants during the "late 19th and early 20th centuries." These immigrants didn't have a lot of money so they made their own meatballs with cheaper cuts of beef, combined them with inexpensive spaghetti and made a sauce from imported canned tomatoes.
Over the years, meatballs have evolved into many variations depending on where you come from and what ingredients you have on hand. You can find them fresh at high end markets or frozen in the freezer island at your local supermarket.
Connie's meatballs do take a little time to make but I'm sure once you've tried them, you'll say it was worth the effort.
Real Italian Meatballs
- ½ pound ground beef
- ½ pound ground veal
- ½ pound ground pork
- 1 handful Italian parsley chopped
- 3 eggs
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese grated
- 2 cups milk whole
- 5 slices Italian bread stale, without crusts and cubed
- 8 ounces ricotta cheese
- 5 tablespoons parmesan cheese heaping tablespoons, grated
- olive oil for frying the meatballs
- 1 onion stuck with cloves
- Italian sausage optional
- ¾ cup red wine for deglazing pan
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 3- 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1- 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, mix chopped meats, mozzarella, ricotta, and some salt. Set aside.
- Soak bread in the milk, then squeeze out the milk, combine with parsley, garlic and eggs.
- Spoon parmesan into bread mixture and add mixture to the chopped meat combo.
- Shape combined mixture into meatballs (add water to hands when shaping to avoid sticking) and fry in olive oil along with sweet Italian sausages (if desired) and an onion stuck with cloves.
- While frying, be sure the meatballs get a crispy “coat” to prevent them from breaking apart.
- Remove the meatballs and sausages if using, deglaze the pan with ¾ cup red wine.
- Add a can of tomato paste and cook and stir until it is an even color.
- Then add 6 ounces of water, stir, and add the mixture to a large sauce pot.
- Open 3 large cans crushed tomatoes and 1 large can whole tomatoes with juice, add to the sauce pot, rinse cans with a little water and add to pot along with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the fried meatballs and sausages and simmer until done, about 60 to 90 minutes.
This looks delicious! My hubby makes a mean meatball himself (the best in the world, but I may be slightly biased).
I am from South Africa. We actually call them 'frikadelle.' 'Skilpadjies' are lamb liver wrapped in 'netvet,' the membrane that surrounds the kidneys.
Thanks for writing about your food discoveries.
G. Stephen Jones
Hi IM, you are welcome and my Danish mom calls them frikadelle.