Cast Iron

The Tiniest Meatballs

October 11, 2018
8 Ratings
Photo by Jenny Huang
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 12 minutes
  • Makes 70-75 1-inch meatballs
Author Notes

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, in a flash. 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. —Ella Quittner

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: We Dare You Not to Eat One Million Of These Teeny, Tiny Meatballs. —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
The Tiniest Meatballs
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup torn stale bread and crust, or about 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley and basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup ricotta
  • 5 sweet Italian sausages (about 16-ounces), uncased
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (or enough to come up about 1/2-inch on the sides of your skillet)
  • 1 pound pasta, to serve (optional)
  • 4 cups your favorite sauce, to serve (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, to serve (optional)
  1. In a food processor, blend garlic, stale bread pieces (or breadcrumbs), parsley, basil, salt, red pepper, and nutmeg until finely chopped and fully combined, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the ricotta, sausage meat, and the mixture from the food processor, and gently mix it all by hand until homogenous. To test seasoning, fry a tiny piece of the mixture in a skillet until cooked through. Then, add salt to the raw mixture if needed.
  3. If using cornstarch for an extra crispy exterior, sprinkle it onto a large, dry plate. Take about a teaspoon of the meat mixture, gently form a ball with your palms, then very lightly roll in the cornstarch just to coat. Set aside. (If you're not using the cornstarch, just form the ball and set aside.) Repeat with the remainder of mixture—you should get about 70 to 75 meatballs with a roughly 1-inch diameter. (I promise, this'll go more quickly than you'd think.)
  4. In a cast iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs gently with a slotted spatula, and fry for about 3 minutes on each side, until they have a crispy brown shell all around. Remove one meatball with a slotted spoon and cut it open to test for doneness. Once done, remove all of the meatballs with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. (Depending on your skillet size, you can do this in two batches to avoid overcrowding.)
  5. To serve, toss with your favorite pasta and cozy sauce, and top with an irresponsibly large sprinkling of Parmesan.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • olivia
  • Susan Keyes Khiar
    Susan Keyes Khiar
  • HalfPint
  • Ella Quittner
    Ella Quittner

14 Reviews

rsg January 29, 2019
Instead of pan frying, sprayed with olive oil spray and cooked in the air fryer for 10 minutes. Still moist and yummy!!
Ella Q. January 29, 2019
Sounds great, thank you for sharing!
Joel November 16, 2018
Do they freeze well? I could see making a big batch to freeze and use when needed.
Ella Q. November 16, 2018
Hi Joel,

Yes, they freeze nicely. I would recommend giving them a pan fry when you're ready to serve to re-crisp.

olivia October 21, 2018
Do you think a one speed Ninja Blender could be substituted for a food processor? I don't have one, but these meatballs look amazing!
Ella Q. October 21, 2018
Hi Olivia,

I think that would be fine! Let me know if you try it. :)

Robert October 18, 2018
Could you bake the meatballs in the oven?
Ella Q. October 18, 2018
Hi Robert,

I haven't tested that, but I suspect it'd work. Let me know if you try!

Susan K. October 15, 2018
which sauce is shown in the photos/video?
Ella Q. October 16, 2018
Hi Susan! I just added the recipe, below, in response to the question from Steph.
steph M. October 15, 2018
Ella, your red sauce in this vid looks divine - and creamy?? Can you share the recipe for this as well??
Ella Q. October 16, 2018
Hi Steph! You can use any creamy tomato sauce with this; my go-to is a quick reduced jammy tomato sauce with cream and pecorino stirred in. For the sauce shown in the video—which was so delicious!—here's the recipe, from Amelia Rampe in our test kitchen:

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 :)
HalfPint October 15, 2018
I would like to make these for a potluck. Can these be made in advance and reheated in the oven? If so, what's the best method to reheat without drying out the meatballs?
Ella Q. October 15, 2018

I would recommend shaping these in advance, then frying them day-of for the potluck (since it'll only take about 6 minutes in a big skillet that fits the whole batch, or 12 minutes for two batches in a smaller skillet). Alternately, if it's easier from a timing perspective to fry in advance, I'd suggest reheating the already fried meatballs by giving them a quick sear in a hot skillet with oil for a minute or two the day you'd like to use them, then throwing them in with a sauce as it warms, and tossing with pasta. The ricotta (and sauce) should help them from drying out. Let me know how it goes!