Meatballs Emilia-Romagna with Pasta Sheets

August 12, 2010

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. - thirschfeldthirschfeld

Food52 Review: 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&MThe Editors

Serves: 4, with enough meatball mix to test for seasoning


  • 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
In This Recipe


  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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