Rao's Meatballs

By • June 11, 2013 • 56 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 (56) Questions (1)


1 day ago zoumonkie

there is only one reason to use this recipe, it's by Raos. Don't mess with it. You can't improve on Raos,


5 days ago Mindy

I don't eat veal, but I have the best grass fed/pasture raised beef and pork that I used and the recipe was totally amazing! Will be making this again and again.


7 days ago Remo Packer

Try using sausage instead of the veal and see what you think or just use beef and sausage. I agree this is too much water overall. You could use half the amount and they will turn out perfectly and they will soak up a better flavor from the sauce when immersed. Mangia!


28 days ago zoumonkie

Like it's kinda a given you'd use Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce.


about 1 month ago Chloroph

Used turkey to replace the veal and pork (we don't eat either of these). Still fantastic. This will be my go to recipe from now on.


28 days ago zoumonkie

Turkey is high in purines as bad for you as scallops, kidney, or anchovies


about 1 month ago Lula Mae Broadway

Almost identical to my Calabrian grandmother's recipe. Only difference: equal parts beef, pork & veal - not beef dominant. And sometimes optional milk instead of water. But not so much 2 cups as by feel. Finally, cooking these in a sauce will MAKE your sauce taste amazing. The longer they're in there, the better. And no matter how good they taste the first day, after a night in the fridge (in the sauce) and then reheated both sauce and meatballs are even more delicious. They're also great cold!


about 1 month ago Transcendancing

Really loved this recipe! I used a combination of beef and free range pork, commercial breadcrumbs so halved them as per the suggestion and used a bit less water - but still as much as I thought I could get them to hold. Texture is light and elastic, delicious flavour, they hold together beautifully and they're moist. They go beautifully with the tomato, onion, butter sauce too. Delicious! Will definitely make again!


about 1 month ago TerryB5520

The process is excellent. Used all the water, adding slowly. Best meatballs ever (and I was extremely skeptical). My new go to method. Genius indeed.


3 months ago AnAhitA Nazari

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


3 months ago Bruce Virga

I wish there was a Like button Todd Mullins.


3 months 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.


3 months ago AnAhitA Nazari

I also use San Marzano Tomatoes always


3 months 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


4 months 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.


4 months 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.


8 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.


11 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