Italian Meatballs – Santelli Family Style

Italian Meatballs

CC Image courtesy of slgckgc on Flickr

As a child I remember going to my great grandmother’s house in New Jersey and sitting down for an afternoon of eating. The afternoon would start with this special round Italian bread, butter and strong stove top brewed coffee. Then the pan fried meatballs would be served, with the chicken soup with small pasta coming next. Eventually the pasta and gravy would be served and then sometime later in the afternoon the cookies would be brought out.

What I remember most was that the flavors my great grandmother imparted in her food was so unique and different then the food my mother cooked at home when it was Italian night. I do not remember the reasons why, but as a child mom’s Italian dishes never resembled my Great Grandmother Santelli’s food. Maybe it was the era, the generational gap, my father’s own tastes or the fact that my great grandmother spoke very little English and could not explain how she made her amazing dishes.

Over the years after my great grandmother passed away did mom begin to migrate to her grandmother’s style of cooking. There was much trial and error and asking questions to her aunt and uncle to see if they could recall exactly how she made the meals. In time, the ingredients for the meatballs were replicated, but it took much more effort to determine how the meatballs were browned.

I began cooking these meatballs back in 1991 at Virginia Tech and over the past two decades I feel comfortable that I have mastered the recipe and the process of cooking the meatballs the way that my great grandmother cooked. As with most Italian-American families there is an element of family pride that invokes the position that their dishes are the best and that the recipe is some family secret that can only be passed on via a blood oath. Personally, if friends of mine recognize the specialness of the dish and want to try and replicate the meal themselves, who am I to let this recipe remain a hidden treasure? What I do understand is that what makes many recipes stand out from the imitations, mass produced offerings and recipe shortcuts is typically one or two ingredients that make the dish unique in it’s flavor.

Italian Meatballs – Santelli Family Style

  • 1 Lbs. Ground Pork
  • 1 Lbs. Ground Veal
  • 1 Lbs. Ground Lamb
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3-6 Garlic Cloves Minced
  • 3/4 Cup of Italian Bread Crumbs (Progresso)
  • 1/3 Cup of Grated Italian Cheese (Parmesean or Romano), but not that Kraft crap.
  • 1 TBSP of Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 TBSP of Italian Seasoning

Honestly, for the bread crumbs, grated cheese, black pepper and Italian Seasoning, I have no idea how much I actually use. It is all visual and a sense of feel. I do not use any salt, since the grated cheese provides the sal

For the ground meat, no substitutions. If you cannot find fresh ground lamb or veal, ask the manager at the grocery store if they have any packages frozen.

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl. Use of your hands gives the best mixed results.

Once thoroughly mixed, it is time to make the meatballs. My suggestion is that you want to roll a meatlball with you hands about the size of a golf ball or ping pong ball.

Once you have rolled out all of the meatballs, it is now time to cook them. You can use either a large skillet or an electric skillet. Set the temperature to Medium-High.

Sometimes I use a little olive oil to get things started, but honestly there is enough fat in the mixture.

I have been making meatballs for a long time, so I load up the skillet, but I would suggest starting with 10-12 initially.

The key to cooking them is to brown them all around. I have no idea how long this takes, maybe less then 10 minutes. All I know is when I am browning meatballs I am in the zone. I usually finish off the batch by moving the skillet back and forth to ensure that they are completely browned all over.

Note: There will be grease and smoke everywhere. There is nothing neat about this entire operation.

I pull them out and place them on paper towels.

Once I am finished cooking the meatballs I drop them into a pot of marinara sauce that has been simmering. An hour or two later, you have meatballs with sauce.

Personally, I would never bake the meatballs (personal choice), but I have been tempted purely from a position of curiosity and definitely never ever drop them into the sauce raw. A part of the flavor that is imparted into the sauce is the exterior browning of the meatballs.

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