Mama Caruso's Fried Meatballs (don't tell my family!)

By • August 6, 2010 35 Comments

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Author Notes: “Mama” refers to my Grandma Caruso, my Dad’s mother. My dad and the rest of his siblings used to refer to her as “Mama”, never mom or mother. My French-American mother learned to make Italian food from "Mama", her Italian mother-in-law. We ate a lot of pasta on Sundays, and my mom always made meatballs with Sunday gravy. She would start her gravy early, and while most of my friends were waking up to the smell of coffee brewing or bacon frying, we’d wake up to garlic and meatballs frying. Yes, we fry our meatballs.
I’ve heard that some people plop their meatballs right into the gravy raw and let them do all of their cooking there. We brown our meatballs first in a sauté pan so they get nice and crispy and tasty. The browning is where all that great flavor comes from! My mom says this also really seals in the juices. I feel if you drop them into the gravy raw, they are missing all of that extra flavor they could be getting by browning them first. The key ingredients to Mama's meatballs are: garlic, fresh Italian parsley (and lots of it), Pecorino Romano cheese, and good rustic bread. My mouth is watering already!

Makes 12 meatballs

  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 large slices of fresh Tuscan country bread, crusts removed, cut into tiny squares
  • 1 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt or sea salt (don’t use table salt)
  • freshly ground pepper, a couple of good grinds
  1. Put the ground chuck and ground pork in a med-sized bowl and add the salt. Gently combine the meat using your hands. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the oil. Gently mix to combine, using your hands, until evenly mixed. Do not knead. The mixture should be slightly wet and workable, not too sticky. Using your hands, gently form meat into golf ball-sized balls. Don’t worry if they are not perfectly round, but try to make them all uniform for even cooking. Don’t roll them over and over. Be gentle.
  2. Add the olive oil to a sauté pan and heat on medium heat. Add all the meatballs to the pan (approx. 12) and leave them sit until they are brown on one side. Shake the pan to loosen the meatballs and then turn each one with tongs to brown the other side. Keep turning with tongs until they are completely and evenly browned. Don’t give up too quickly, you want that crispy browned exterior. When everything looks pretty brown, cut into one of them to test for doneness. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel to drain.
  3. Hopefully you've already made a big pot of delicious Sunday gravy. Now is the time to throw your meatballs into your gravy to cook for awhile and then serve with pasta. But, make sure to save a few on the side (no gravy), just fried with a little salt. Delicious!

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