Rao's Meatballs

By • June 11, 2013 • 47 Comments

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Author Notes: Spaghetti and meatballs doesn't have to be a meal that you slave over and simmer all day, nor does it need to put you into hibernation once you've eaten it. You can mix, shape, and fry these meatballs in exactly the time it takes for Marcella Hazan's tomato, butter, and onion sauce to cook (or even this 20-minute marinara, if you're really fast). The caveats: 1. Make your own fresh breadcrumbs (i.e. grind up some stale bread) or, if your crumbs are purchased and quite fine, cut back by half, and don't use quite as much water. I can't be responsible for your stiff, mealy dumpling-balls if you don't heed this. 2. Use local, pastured, not very lean meats if at all possible. Good flavor and fat go a long way here. Adapted slightly from Rao's Cookbook by Frank Pellegrino (Random House, 1998)Genius Recipes

Makes 28 meatballs

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 small clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup good quality olive oil, for cooking
  • Your favorite marinara sauce (we like Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, also on Food52)
  1. Combine beef, veal, and pork in a large bowl. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, blend ingredients together. Blend bread crumbs into meat mixture. Slowly add water, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture is quite moist. Shape into 2 1/2 to 3-inch balls.
  2. Heat oil in a large sauté pan. When oil is very hot but not smoking, fry meatballs in batches. When the bottom half of the meatball is very brown and slightly crisp, turn and cook top half. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.
  3. Lower cooked meatballs into simmering marinara sauce and cook for 15 minutes. Serve alone or with pasta.
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Comments (47) Questions (1)


29 days ago AnAhitA Nazari

Remember 1 thing a Big Resturant will not give you their real method of Recipie since it is trade marked


29 days ago Bruce Virga

I wish there was a Like button Todd Mullins.


29 days ago Todd Mullins

First off, excellent recipe. I come to Food52 when I want to learn a new *method* of preparing/cooking something, rather than the individual ingredients, because my ingredients are whatever's in my fridge/pantry. Traditionally, I've baked meatballs on a broiling pan and never added water. Your method resulted in perfect meatballs.

Secondly, to the commenters...there are 2100+ likes on this recipe and only 40+ comments, most of which are negative in regards to the *amount* of water. I know it said 2 cups, and I know it said to add it 1C at a time, but you missed the main point: "SLOWLY add water...UNTIL the mixture is quite moist." In other words, you should gradually work in as much water as you can, until you think you won't be able to form them into balls anymore if you add more. Recipes can't be universal (our individual environments, our different stove tops, etc.), but too many people treat them as such.


about 1 month ago AnAhitA Nazari

I also use San Marzano Tomatoes always


about 1 month ago AnAhitA Nazari

That is way too much water , I do this I add to breadcrumbs Milk 1/2 Cup Then eggs then salt and pepper and garlic and meat no Pork and mix well , then fry till brown


about 1 month ago keg72

I made these today and thought they were delicious. Like others, I can't even imagine adding two cups of water. I added one and wished I'd only added 3/4 of a cup.


about 1 month ago Nancy

I love it when a recipe lives up to the hype. Thanks for posting this - they were easy and delicious. One cup of water was more than enough for my mixture.


6 months ago EmilyC

Made these while visiting my parents. I added the full two cups of water, which made the meatballs a little too loose. My husband joked that I made delicious sliders instead of meatballs, because they flattened out like patties. Also, I'd highly recommend the use a splatter screen -- given the high water content, the meatballs spatter a lot of grease while frying. The end result was worth the full wipe-down of the range, though! Served with Marcella sauce. So good.


9 months ago Haley Sonneland

Haley handles PR and marketing for Food52

Made these this weekend and they were delicious. I forgot to add the cup of water so some of the meatballs fell apart a little bit when I added them to the sauce to cook, but that was not an issue as I then had lots of meat sauce too!


about 1 year ago Blanquita

Rao's @ Caesars Palace La Vegas My FAV..


about 1 year ago Margaret

I remember our Italian neighbour when I was growing up, teaching my mother hoe to make meatballs. She started by soaking French bread in a sink full of water, them mixing into the meat. Same idea as adding water later. It was a little messy as you had to squeeze out the excess water before adding it They were great. Looking forward to trying this recipe


about 1 year ago Kurtis

Is it silly of me to task if these are freezable?


about 1 year ago Moby Dick

I freeze them all the time. Usually in sauce, but have done so with good results without sauce. Be certain that the freezer bag, box etc. is air tight.


about 1 year ago Kurtis



about 1 year ago SusanR

I made these last night. They are delicious!! I followed the recipe exactly. I did not have homemade breadcrumbs, so I bought some, but I saw how fine they were and knew that would not be good. I realized I had a baguette that I was about to throw out because it was hard, and that came to the rescue. These meatballs are PERFECT! I served them with Marcella's Tomato, Butter and Onion sauce. Insanely good. Thank you!


about 1 year ago irishchef

Rao's meatballs are by far the "BEST". I have added some sauteed minced shallots and oregano for added boost but you don't have to. I also used lees than half the H2O. You could use a mixture of wine, beef or chicken stock


about 1 year ago Ann

Caveat Emptor...if anyone has the original printing of Rao's first cookbook copyright 1998 - the meatball recipe on page 106 had a typo...it says "4 cups of water"! I knew instantly that this had to be an error and confirmed it by calling the restaurant.


7 months ago Nancy McDonnell

Absolutely correct---followed the original recipe but was amazed at the 4 cups water. Cut down the water to two cups, but the meatballs were very loose, but delicious. love the Rao's cookbook--my go-to-source for Italian cooking. Still faithfully make their marinara, and the Red pepper salad--oh, and their pork chops and peppers, oh my!!!


over 1 year ago Owlygirl

Wow. I would be so pissed if I ordered meatballs that had veal. This is why I don't trust restaurants.


4 months ago FoodFanaticToo

Yes, the veal is a huge problem for me, too. I will leave it out when I make these!


over 1 year ago Carlin Troy

Has anyone substituted wine for some of the water?


over 1 year ago procrastibaker

Used beef and pork (no ground veal at the store, and no meat grinder at home). Turned out tender and delicious. But! Pay close attention when you're adding the water: I could have stopped at just over a cup and they would have been perfect, but blindly added the second cup all in one go. As it was (in their over-hydrated state) they were a bit slumped and made slightly less than perfectly round balls, but were excellent nonetheless. Served them with homemade marinara from the last-fresh-tomatoes-of-the-season batch I made two weeks ago, and got rave reviews from my partner.


over 1 year ago fionula

what a great recipe! I used slightly less water (out of fear) and they were lovely and tender and held together. It looks like a frequent flyer chez nous (with Hazan's brilliant sauce.) Very grateful to have something this good and this easy. thanks


over 1 year ago Katbelle

Awesome! I had to grind my own veal...Raleys in CA is no longer allowed to grind veal or any ground meats so next time I'm just using ground pork and ground beef. I used whole whole grain artisan bread to make bread crumbs and ended up using 1 and 1/2 cups water. I added 1/2 c at a time. It did take quite a bit of water. My meatballs held together just fine. Came out really tasty! There are only two of us. After it was mixed I spilt the mixture Into 3 equal parts and froze two in food saver bags. I used an ice cream scoop to make same sized meatballs with the other third and it became outstanding meatballs. Went really well with Marcella Hazen's tomato and onion sauce!