How to Make Meatballs

Josephine, daughter of Anna, taught me to cook in her tiny kitchen on Ruth Street. My grandmother was the child of immigrants, following the American dream across the Atlantic, all the way to Bridgeport, Connecticut. From Abruzzo the ancestors came by boat, older children caring for the young. I have seen their names etched at Ellis Island but cannot imagine my stout, stern nonni as a thirteen-year-old girl. Josephine did not stray far from her mother’s home. She can’t understand why those of our generation live so far away. Her attempt to keep us connected to family through food, stories and photographs is not at all unusual, but it took me many years to realize why it mattered. Cooking with my grandmother, I inherit simple wisdoms left unspoken. She shared her recipe for meatballs with me and I, in turn, pass it on to you, dear readers. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like sweet old nannas. And that’s just awful.

Josephine’s Meatballs


  • 1/2 lb ground sirloin
  • 1/2 lb ground veal
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup very finely minced yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (panko)
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil (for frying)


Step 1: In a large bowl use your hands to combine everything but the oil. Mix well, but not too well.

Step 2: Scoop up mixture with your fingers and roll into a nearly perfect sphere in the palm of your hand. This recipe generated 18 beautiful balls.

Step 3: In a deep-sided skillet heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then arrange meatballs in the hot oil. Fry on medium-high for a few minutes and carefully turn, using a rubber spatula, so all balls are completely browned and glistening.

Step 4: Turn off the gas and preheat oven to 350. Add 2 ladles of your favorite tomato sauce to cover the meatballs. The skillet then goes into the oven for 20 minutes.

At this point I like to burn my fingers removing the pan, though I recommend an oven mitt for all of you. I always split a meatball in half to make sure it’s cooked thoroughly, not at all pink but still juicy.

Serve with spaghetti.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. First of all, I love your nonni already and I can’t wait to love her meatballs.

    Secondly, you should be a hand model! (That sounds like an thinly veiled insult, now that I read it, like “she has the face for radio.” You should be an everything model, OF COURSE, but look at your hands!)

    Thirdly, have you seen this? :

    These videos are just wonderful. They make me miss my grandmother, even though she was really quite a nasty person and not at all good in the kitchen.

  2. *Very* similar to my own great-grandmother’s recipe. I make out 2 differences: thyme and oregano instead of rosemary, and rather than the oven I dump them into a pot of sauce (hopefully homemade) to simmer until the rest of the meal is ready.

  3. jillian your recipe is perfect,i grew up in worcester mass. and now live in eastern conn. my nanna tried to pass her recipe on to us but i was to young and a boy not interested in cooking, just eating, the taste is right on, ive been looking and trying my own recipes for twenty years,now thanks to you ,at 40 i can share this with my family too. ps. i hope you love maine, its a beautiful place to be

  4. I’ve been on a quest for the perfect meatball for years, haven’t found one yet that I loved, but this past Christmas I found one my family liked enough to have me make them again. I’ll definitely be trying this recipe soon … it sounds amazing and like it’ll be a winner here at home. I may have to change out the rosemary for something else, I’m just not a fan … any recommendations?

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