We Dare You Not to Eat One Million Of These Teeny, Tiny Meatballs

Why meatballs the size of marbles should be your new weeknight staple.

October 15, 2018

To me, there's nothing more irresistible than a bowl of warm, saucy pasta with meatballs. Extra cheese to top it all off? I thought you'd never ask.

But where things really get interesting in my book is when you shrink down the meatballs, until they're about as big as marbles. For starters, this gives them a patented-perfect crisp exterior to tender interior ratio. A miniature stature also means quick cooking—as in, less time than it takes to boil pasta water. And last (but so definitively not least), a big smattering of tiny meatballs across your bowl of noodles means a meatball in every bite—rather than a hack job on some single giant guy perched atop your spaghetti.

Photo by Jenny Huang

Like most good things, mini meatballs are endorsed by Marcella Hazan. In her recipe for Rigatoni al Forno con le Polpettine (aka Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs) in Marcella's Italian Kitchen, she writes, "In the early years of my career in cooking, the statement that seemed most to startle students and interviewers was that spaghetti and meatballs is not an Italian dish. To be exact: the concept is undoubtedly Italian; it is the execution—the colossal meatballs, overloaded with herbs, saturated with oil, buried in tomato sauce—that appears solely on the western side of the Atlantic." She goes on to describe her sparsely garnished meatballs as "diminutive," which is just about the cutest thing I've ever read, full stop. (The incredible Deb Perelman has a great adaptation of Hazan's recipe over on Smitten Kitchen.)

My Tiniest Meatballs have a few tricks up their (size XXXS) sleeves to pack maximum flavor while requiring the least amount of work—making them my all-time favorite easy weeknight meatball. They call in sweet Italian sausage, rather than plain old ground pork, so you get a couple of extras on the seasoning front: fennel seeds, dried parsley, onion powder, in most blends. They also let you skip all of the chopping and mincing of herbs and garlic and stale bread—instead, you just blitz it together in a food processor. And finally, they invite ricotta to the party, because they don't want you to find them too dense. The ricotta in these tiny meatballs add extra tenderness to their interiors that serves as a perfect foil to the crisped-as-heck exteriors.

One note on that: I've included cornstarch as optional in the recipe. If you give these teeny spheres a good roll-around in the stuff (then shake it off!) before frying, you're in for a crazy-crispy crust. (Hazan called for her tiny meatballs to be rolled in flour for the same reason.) But, if you're not planning to toss your 'balls with a sauce to serve, you might want to go au naturel on the exterior to avoid the light white shell that'll form in certain spots with the cornstarch. Either way, you'll get super solid browning.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I love mini meatballs. There's something unwieldy and lonely about 1 large meatball on a plate of spaghetti ;)”
— HalfPint

And now, with no further delay, I'd like to introduce you to the tiniest—but tastiest—meatballs I know:

Do you like your meatballs small or big? Let me know in the comments!

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


FrugalCat January 30, 2019
I inherited a melon baller when my mom stopped cooking. It was perfect for these meatballs. It has two scoops- one about an inch across, the other about a half inch.
Ella Q. January 30, 2019
Such a great idea!
Sunny M. October 15, 2018
Can you share the sauce recipe used in the video/images?
Ella Q. October 16, 2018
Hi Sunny!

Amelia Rampe in our test kitchen put that sauce together--here's the recipe she used:

2 tbsp EVOO
2 medium shallots, roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup vodka
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 28-oz cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed
Pinch red chili flakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat EVOO in Dutch oven over medium heat, and add shallots, onion, and garlic. Cook until translucent and very tender. Add vodka and reduce by half. Add tomato paste and cook until deep red. Add hand crushed tomatoes and chili flakes. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer, until tomato sauce has thickened and flavors have melded (about 45 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add butter, and transfer mixture to blender. Purée tomato sauce until it looks smooth, glossy, red-orange, and creamy.

Here's her page, just in case you want to follow her :)
Sunny M. October 16, 2018
thank you!! Can't wait to make it
Ella Q. October 16, 2018
Excellent, let me know how it goes! :)
Rhonda35 October 18, 2018
Are you sure about this? The sauce in the video looks very orange - as if it's made from butternut squash. A sauce made from just tomatoes and onions essentially would be much more red, I'd think. I'm surprised by the color.
MsJoanie October 18, 2018
I'm with you on the color of the sauce but thought it was probably the result of adding cream, as many vodka sauces do.
Rhonda35 October 18, 2018
You might be right, although there’s no cream listed in the ingredients - maybe an oversight.
HalfPint October 15, 2018
I love mini meatballs. There's something unwieldy and lonely about 1 large meatball on a plate of spaghetti ;)
Ella Q. October 15, 2018
I totally agree! :)
The more meatballs, the better.