Rao's Meatballs

Test Kitchen-Approved

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
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 30 min


  • 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
  • 1 pinch Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • 1 pinch 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)
In This Recipe


  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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Reviews (128) Questions (2)

128 Reviews

lovelymissalex December 11, 2018
Meh. Turned out ok, kind of bland. I'd suggest doubling the sauce recipe. I didn't, and there wasn't nearly enough to soak the meatballs.
zoumonkie December 12, 2018
The recipe calls for using your favorite sauce. You apparently didn’t use your favorite sauce. Rao’s sauce is available in stores.
Dolores November 14, 2018
Having never made meatballs before could someone clarify what fresh <br />breadcrumbs are .<br />Does it mean white bread pinched out as if feeding breadcrumbs to birds . Experienced cooks are laughing but have mercy.
zoumonkie November 15, 2018
Fresh is an antonym for stale. Buy bread crumbs or make your own; easy in a food processor. This is not a meatball recipe, It's a Rao's recipe, follow it with no substitutions.
M S. November 17, 2018
Hi Dolores: Bread comes are crumbs of bread. They can be prepared at home by cutting crusts off bread, preferably a touch stale, and putting them in a food processor until fine. This approach allows you to use quality breads. Many people now use unflavored Panko bread crumbs that they purchase in supermarkets. They are perfect. The brand 4C makes good panko crumbs. Some stores have Japanese versions that have none of the usual preservatives in them.<br />
Natalie November 8, 2018
This was delicious and very easy to make! I left out the veal due to availability and ease, and just used a combination of ground beef and ground pork - it works beautifully!
zoumonkie November 8, 2018
You can only imagine how good it is with veal and your imagination falls short.
AniaSweets August 24, 2018
These are delicious!
zoumonkie August 24, 2018
Rao's cookbook is worth the money; better than The Silver Spoon.
zoumonkie February 9, 2018
Your comment is on posts that are over two years old. You're right about the veal Nazi, but she is free to express herself; this is America. If the discussion was simply about meatloaf, changes might be appropriate. It isn't. It's about a specific meatball, Rao's. You'll never know what a Rao's meatball is if you use different ingredients. Exchanging veal with turkey is like exchanging Asian carp with chopped clams in gefilte fish; it isn't kosher.
Beth A. February 8, 2018
@Food52, could you maybe clean up these comments? There are few reviews but a lot of unpleasantness about veal. What I like about this site is reviews are usually pretty well curated and not this kind of tripe.
M S. February 8, 2018
Let's put our heads together. How can we work it that Amanda gets blamed for these varied points of view in conflict with each other.
Suzanne S. February 9, 2018
Poor Beth...can't handle an adult conversation. Take your censorship somewhere else.
M S. December 4, 2017
Just use ground turkey instead of the veal for Raos meatballs. Flavors correctly. Textures correctly. Healthier, less expensive, more available than veal.
zoumonkie December 4, 2017
It's something else, it's not a Raos meat ball. People who think turkey is healthier always push that dirty filthy bird. If you want a Roas meatball use veal. If you don't care what you eat then ground Turkey or Chef Boyardee from a can
M S. December 4, 2017
Beef and pork dominate whether you use veal or substitute turkey for it in the Raos recipe. Lot of crumbs, too. Good veal is not that readily available in rural areas. Sometimes it is expensive.
Ed C. April 9, 2018
I would be curious to know what type of veal Rao's uses. I have zero interest in judging them and am only interested because of their obvious expertise in how to make great Italian food. Obviously, the pure white veal is the least humanely raised and, probably, a step too far for me (although I might try it once in the recipe just to set a benchmark for the ideal flavor of a truly classic Italian meatball). I an open to trying turkey or some other substitute. OTOH, if Rao's uses a pink veal, I would probably look into sourcing that from the most humane processor I could find...certainly prefer to be as true as possible to Rao's recipe. And, who knows, maybe Rao's uses pork from heritage hog breeds, which presumably are much more flavorful than than modern, industrial hogs. I also notice that, so far, nothing has been said about the fineness of the grind, twice-ground, etc. There are a lot of variables here.
Ginger D. December 15, 2018
If you don't like veal, follow another recipe. As others have said, this is a RAO's Meatball!! If you change it, now it is NOT Rao's, but your own recipe. If you don't know what Rao's is, please Google it. Or better yet, go to Olive Garden.
WAYNE B. October 5, 2016
I have done this. It was pretty easy and fast. Nice!
Clysthenes March 26, 2016
zoumonkie March 26, 2016
Thanks for setting the record straight. That should quiet the veal Nazis.<br />
Mindy S. March 27, 2016
what an a-hole remark! you have no class!
Mindy S. March 27, 2016
still not eating veal! :)<br />
Stephanie C. November 16, 2015
Children, Children SERIOUSLY.....What the hell type of FOODIES are you....enough with the Veal discussion. I don't eat Veal either....What is the BIG deal? So Mindy changed the recipe.....I have eaten at Rao's.....I doubt very much that the Owner would appreciate this ridiculous banter. Let it go....and for the record.....take a ride up to Columbia Co, NY to beautiful farmland, and when you see these little igloos with calves chained by their necks unable to move.....perhaps you can appreciate another persons point of view.....not just "1" farm practicing this method.....having said that, it is only one's own perception.....respect it
Synky September 22, 2015
Really great recipe! Very child friendly. Usually meatballs are more or less a miss with our children, but these everyone liked and asked for seconds! Super delicate! Will make them again.
Ryan S. November 17, 2016
Sophie S. September 1, 2015
Absolutely brilliant recipe! I made them tonight and they were delicious. This is the first recipe I've tried from the Genius Recipes cookbook; one of many that sound intriguing, and by no means the last one I'll be making. <br />Personally I think the cheese just makes it and I would never have thought to include it, or to exclude onions. I put some onions in the sauce and it was an outstanding dish. Thanks!
Mindy S. August 24, 2015
this is my initial review...YES, MY REVIEW...."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."
zoumonkie September 1, 2015
Veal is 25% of the dish which makes 28 meatballs. Without the veal seven people go without a meatball. why didn't you make one meatball without veal and then add the veal so everyone could have a great Rao meatball. I respect your crazy phobia against veal, but don't force it on others at dinner.
SMSF May 6, 2016
If they didn't want to have veal, or couldn't get it for some reason, most people, I think, would just make up for the volume/weight of the veal by adding more beef and/or pork. So you'd still have the same amount of meatballs and no one would have to go without. Of course that means it isn't a true Rao's meatball, but that's another issue.
zoumonkie May 7, 2016
I see your point. A diabetic could replace the sugar in sugar cookies with salt and the recipe would make the same number of cookies. It's so simple when you just take a moment to think it through
El S. August 16, 2015
you people are mad about weird things
Picholine August 16, 2015
Mindy, the child is you, to use such language on a food site ...we are discussing food. I'm not using foul language. You have the bug up your buns about veal....I am not going to jump in any more because you have no clue how to review a recipe. Why would you lower yourself by using that language? Enjoy your cooking and have fun! Don't take life so seriously. <br />You are most probably well meaning. Sorry for your frustration.
zoumonkie August 16, 2015
Obviously the lack of veal in Mindy's diet has taken a toll on her senses
Mindy S. August 16, 2015
clearly people cannot stand someone having a conscience or sharing their opinion. the person with the problem is not me...it is those who attack me. if you can't read the entire thread of nasty remarks then I don't need help...you do. Language has meaning. If you can't appreciate language and understand meaning again...your problem. I didn't lower myself what-so-ever. Dealing with nasty people sometimes requires harsh language. <br />
Mindy S. August 16, 2015
why are there so many douchebags like Picholine and CleveChef on here? Seriously...grow the f#ck up!
Picholine August 16, 2015
Yes, I'm going there again...make any version of these meatballs you wish,<br />Just don't review as Rao's meatballs. Here's why, the recipe is from a very successful NYC restaurant and bastardizing them in any way will not be a true review. That's all!
CleveChef August 16, 2015
Oh, geez, if you don't believe in eating veal, then don't use veal in the recipe. I don't eat veal and I don't make stupid comments about on a recipe website.
Mindy S. August 16, 2015
the beauty of opinions is that you don't have to agree with them and those who disagree show the most maturity who don't feel the need to denigrate those with differing opinions. Grow up.
CleveChef August 18, 2015
Oh, so I shouldn't express MY opinion?<br /><br />And I'm a "douchbag?"<br /><br />I think you're the immature one.<br /><br />Is anyone from Food52 moderating this thread?
Amber S. February 21, 2016
I don't eat veal anymore. But I don't state why unless I'm asked. And then I don't go into a sad nasty scary story about those babies. I may just say I just stopped eating it. Let them think it's because of the high cost of veal. Does everyone always state why they do certain things? No. So I don't do it with this either. My choices are my choices. I don't push my beliefs in anyone. And no one else should either. Who cares what these meatballs are called. Call them your own. Because no one made them but you! People!!! They keep me from posting on sites. Even if it means giving my opinion on a darn meatball!
Mindy S. February 24, 2016
Cleve..you are expressing your opinion...GOODIE FOR YOU!! Yes I still think you are a bag....that too is my opinion. <br />Amber...good for you! Have a day!<br /><br />Food is a political issue. I feel that this is just as good as any place to share what I know with others who might not know what veal is and why it is a food that some people object to. education is knowledge. food is educational and political. Have fun everyone.
Glendi August 16, 2015
I made these and they are great, but I substituted Oatmeal for the breadcrumbs (because of it's cholesterol reducing capabilities, and I have trouble digesting beef) and they were still really good. In fact, in the bowl, the quantities of oatmeal to meat appeared about equal by volume. I just let the oatmeal sit in the liquid for a while before incorporating all the ingredients. Light and fluffy results.
Mindy S. August 16, 2015
Hey Glendi.....watch out....if you are not following the EXACT ingredient list you are going to get hammered by the food nazis on here. I like what you shared...thanks. :)
Amber S. February 21, 2016
Very good! I love it!!!
Paula August 9, 2015
Make these balls any way you can and dont be afraid of the water! Just amazing!