Meatballs Emilia-Romagna with Pasta Sheets

August 12, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Serves 4, with enough meatball mix to test for seasoning
Author Notes

Although I have never been, I have been fascinated with this region of Italy ever since I first tasted tagliatelle with a game ragu. I like the richness of the food and yet it never seems overly heavy and filling. I think it has to do with the restraint and balance of the rich and decadent foods they use. I chose to use ground short ribs for the base of the meatball for several reasons. One they stay moist because of the fat content, two I also caramelize the meatballs because that is one of the great things about short ribs is how rich they become after browning. I also grate the onion and garlic on a micro plane so it permeates the bread crumb and milk panade and then the entire meatball. If you make these meatballs hours ahead of time and put them in the fridge when you go to roll them they will seem like they are not going to bind together. As you work them in your hands the heat of your hands will soften the fat and the will come together nicely. - thirschfeld —thirschfeld

Test Kitchen Notes

This recipe is a marathon, but you’ll have a runner’s high by the time you brown the meatballs and start smelling the goodness to come. Do all your prep work first because once that’s done, the recipe is a snap. You mix and shape the meatballs -- which are made with succulent ground short rib meat -- and after browning them in a pan, you use the pan drippings as the base for a rich Bolognese-like sauce. The pasta sheets are a great touch – a way to make impromptu, loosely-formed lasagna without all the counting of layers and baking. Thirschfeld really channeled his inner nonna on this one. – A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 pounds short rib meat, sinew removed and ground, you butcher can do this for you too.
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, grated on a micro plane
  • 1 tablespoon yellow onion, grated on a micro plane
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup parmesan reggiano, grated
  • 1 egg
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow onion, small dice
  • 3/4 cup carrots, small dice
  • 3/4 cup celery, small dice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 thin slices of prosciutto, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock or chicken stock
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, about 6 inches long
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons double concentrate tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 4 each, 12 inch long fresh pasta sheets, or DeCecco lasagna sheets
  1. Combine the bread crumbs, milk, grated garlic and grated onions in a bowl and mix to combine. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Combine the beef, egg, parmesan and parsley with the bread crumb mixture and mix very well. ( I used the paddle attachment on my mixer.) Season with a half a teaspoon of salt and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Make a walnut sized meatball. Place a small saute pan over medium heat. Add some oil and saute the meatball until it is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Keep in mind the garlic and onion will grow stronger as the mix sets so you are really only tasting for salt. Place them in the fridge while you cut you veggies.
  2. Roll the meatballs making them golf ball size. I used a #20 scoop.Heat a large 14 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat. These meatballs start out very tender but firm up as the fat is rendered. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil and gently add the meatballs and brown them on all sides. Remove them to a sheet tray with sides when they are finished browning.
  3. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  4. Empty out the grease and put the pan back on the heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil and add the prosciutto. Once the prosciutto is crisp add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Saute until they begin to soften but don't brown. Add the garlic.
  5. Once you smell the garlic add the wine, tomato paste and the bay leaves. Reduce the wine to a glaze and then add the stock and rosemary sprig. Reduce the liquid by half. Add the milk and cream. Let it come to a boil and then then place the pan into the oven.
  6. Slide the meatballs into the oven too. Set a timer for 16 minutes.
  7. About 4 minutes before the timer goes off drop the noodles into the pot of boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.(if you are not using fresh pasta start to cook it according to the time on the box and plan to have it done at the same time as the ragu) Remove the pasta and let it drain. Remove the sauce and meatballs from the oven. Remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprig from the sauce. The sauce should not be thick but should be reduced.
  8. To plate hold the end of a noodle with a clean towel. Place about a tablespoon of sauce between each layer as you bunch it on the plate. Place three meatballs on top drizzle with some ragu and grate more cheese over the top and serve.
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108 Reviews

lynn P. February 5, 2018
Oh... my... holy... gawd.
I would make this for the Pope (assuming he eats beef).
Next time I will quadruple the sauce, and what doesn't get slurped up with those most amazing meatballs, I would drink from a teenage boy's sneaker.
leslie March 18, 2016
Do the meatballs go into the sauce before putting into the oven?
sevenfaces August 9, 2014
This was a taste sensation! (Though my meatballs must have been too big because the layered sheet effect was very much a disaster for me.) Texturally, without the chunkiness of any tomatoes, the sauce was something different that I think I liked. Flavour wise, spot on. Preparation was not even as marathon-like as suggested. Yay!
Jocelyn G. December 22, 2013
This is absolutely fantastic. That is all.
tREX May 3, 2013
I really loved these meatballs. The sauce was awesome too, however, I did take a bit of liberty to appease my red sauce loving family and added one can of crushed tomatoes before putting it in the oven. It has a lovely depth of flavor and a more traditional look. Next time, I'll follow to the letter, but this is a definite crowd pleaser. Also, I doubled everything for a larger family party w/out any issues.
The F. January 5, 2013
I have successfully made several of the dishes Thirschfeld has published on Food52 and have been pleased with his recipes, except for this one. I wasn't completely satisfied with the results, thought something was lacking. I followed the directions to a T and completed all my prep before I actually began cooking (this is a must for this recipe to be successful). In the ingredient list it states tomato paste but then in the directions it refers to tomato sauce and I was like what, I didn't buy sauce! So I was confused there, but went ahead and used tomato paste. I think the meatballs could use a little more spice as they are just your basic meatball that uses short rib meat instead of ground chuck. And lastly, I think the biggest problem I had was with the sauce. Where's the tomatoes? The sauce resembled muddy thicken water because of the wine and the beef broth and it didn't look that appealing to the eye. Sorry to be so harsh, but I was excepting more.
thirschfeld January 5, 2013
Not harsh at all Fiery. I have always maintained and will continue too that food is best tailored to your own likes and wants. That said the sauce is a very traditional Emilia-Romagna ragu as opposed to the typical, albeit delicous, Italian American tomato sauce. It also sounds like you might have needed to reduce the sauce more but anyway, sorry it didn't work for you I have always enjoyed it and simply posted it in hopes others would too.
Dougin December 8, 2012
A newbie to 52 and this is the first recipe I've made from this site. This was unbelievably amazing!!!!! Worth every minute it took to create one of the best dishes I've ever ate!!!! Thank you so much for this recipe. I look forward to trying your other recipes.
BavarianCook June 12, 2012
This is amazing! I came home today with good quality ground beef intending to make meatballs and then found this recipe here. So although my meat was different, the remaining ingredients were the same and it was delicious. Mille grazie!
letsfeast February 7, 2012
Made this last week and it was absolutely delicious! The meatballs were so tender and flavourful and the sauce really rustic .. fantastic.
boulangere September 30, 2011
We made this in class on Thursday with shortribs, but skipped the meatball step. We served it over handmade pasta sheets - it was the students' first experience with handcutting pasta. To say it was all heavenly doesn't begin to do it justice. It was downright divine.
ellent124 June 5, 2011
Sounds lovely--we always use romano in meatballs--like Grandma did--parm just isn't right. Have you tried that? Do you think the romano is too much with the rich short rib meat? Plan to try when my kids are home on a visit.
bugbitten April 13, 2011
I drove through Emilia-Romania quite a while (twenty years) ago. Easy to go back: Milano, rent-a-car, Modena, Parma, Bologna, then Ferrara, which has the nicest hotel in the region. For some reason, the best food in Italy is here. Best ham outside of Barcelona. Sante!
casa-giardino April 13, 2011
Personally, I would omit the cream and the tomato paste.
tomo' December 29, 2010
Wonderful - amazing worth the work! Thank you!
mcs3000 October 14, 2010
Yes, please!
mariaraynal October 12, 2010
I've been meaning to comment on this recipe for sounds utterly heavenly and is on my to-make list.
Victoria C. October 6, 2010
Microplane makes a grater called medium ribbon grater. It grates in both directions so is excellent when you want to grate onions. I always use it when I make meatballs as I don't want any perceptible pieces in them.

I haven't made this yet, but it's printed out to make over this long Columbus Day Weekend.
beckycarpenter October 5, 2010
A little confused here...first make the meatballs (walnuts) and saute them and then RE-make them (golf balls) and cook them again?
(Forgive my cluelessness - I'm the graphic designer for the site and not really a cook.)

Can't wait for this wonderful-sounding meal!
lastnightsdinner October 5, 2010
I think that's to test the meat mixture for seasoning :)
thirschfeld October 5, 2010
yes, LND is correct the walnut size piece is to cook and taste, before you make all of them, so you can see if you want to add more salt or not. When you make all the meatballs you want to make them golfball size. Which in reality, I guess it depends on whether that walnut is a green walnut or a walnut with just the shell. Sorry. You want to cook a small amount and then taste it to see if you need more seasoning. Sorry for the confusion and it is a great question.
katydids September 30, 2010
Outrageous! YUMMERS!
Chelseabell September 16, 2010
These look great!