When my cousin returned to North America after spending several years away in Taiwan, she was asked what she’d like to have at her repatriation dinner. Without skipping a beat, she uttered: “Grandma’s meatballs. I want Grandma’s meatballs.”

It made sense. Anyone who’s had them knows the effect that they can have on people. I’ve even known vegetarians to try them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d secretly trade their first-born for one.

Like virtually everything that has come out of Nonna’s kitchen, her meatballs are straightforward and to-the-point; the recipe never changes and you can almost count the number of ingredients on one hand. These meatballs don’t mess around, people. I recommend that you respond in kind, resisting the urge to mess around with them by adding or subtracting components. This is not your opportunity to, say, make foie gras or quinoa-ball concoctions. Any attempt to get inventive would result in a polite, yet firm, “tsk” from Nonna, reminding you that some recipes are better left intact.

Like any good family recipe, this one has a secret weapon. I’d love to tell you that it’s the amore that’s put in it or that there’s some special, ancient rolling technique involved. But really, it’s the veal. It’s all about the veal. Forget everything you learnt about meatballs containing beef. Beef does not belong in this meatball. Trust me.

It’s worth mentioning that the recipe included here is actually a variation of Nonna’s decades-old recipe. Her version requires that the meatballs be cooked slowly in homemade tomato sauce. But on this given day, circumstances (and more specifically, time) dictated that we bake them in the oven. They are not identical to Nonna’s*, but they still contain the traditional ingredients and be absolutely delicious, the only real difference being that they will have a crispy exterior.

(*if you want them to be exactly like Nonna’s, add the raw meatballs to a simmering pot of tomato sauce to cook them through – gently and slowly. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the meatballs.)

Polpette

  • 1/2 kg minced pork
  • 1 kg minced veal
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • a handful of parsley, minced
  • 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place meat in a large bowl. Add garlic, parsley, salt & pepper; mix into meat. Add breadcrumbs and eggs; mix until combined and until ingredients are evenly distributed. Roll into golf ball-sized portions.

Arrange on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until cooked through, turning them once halfway through the cooking process.

Note: these delightful little things freeze really well. Simply place cooked meatballs on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze, later placing them in freezer bags or airtight containers equipped for the freezer.