Italian Meatballs, New Jersey-Style, From ‘The Chef Next Door’

This crowd-pleasing recipe comes from The Chef Next Door: A Pro Chef’s Recipes for Fun, Fearless Home Cooking by Amanda Freitag (William Morrow Cookbooks), the chef and Food Network star. Try making the recipe at home and let us know what you think!

Photograph by David Malosh

By Amanda Freitag

Makes about thirty 3-ounce meatballs, to serve 6 to 8

This is an ode to Jersey, and all the friends and neighbors with strong Italian roots who I grew up around. I have many warm childhood memories of a full belly after impressive Sunday suppers at their tables, filled with elegant yet humble and delicious dishes. After I became a chef, I traveled to Italy and observed similar practices and traditions all over the country, as families got together on Sundays for a big family meal, breaking bread and pausing to enjoy one another and some great food! 

1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup milk
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
1 cup chopped shallots
½ cup minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/3cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Olive oil, for searing the meatballs
1 recipe Marinara Sauce (see below), for serving
Pasta, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the panko and milk. Let stand for 10 minutes, then add the veal, beef, pork, shallots, garlic, thyme, parsley, cheeses, eggs, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to mix and incorporate well.

Make a tester patty to taste for seasoning. This is a must! Simply sear a small amount of the meat, taste it, and adjust the seasoning in the rest of the mix as needed before you make the meatballs.

Take a small amount of the meat mixture in your hand — about ¼ cup or 3 ounces — and round it into a meatball that’s about 3 inches wide. Place it on a baking sheet and continue to make the rest of the meatballs until you have used all of the meat mixture.

In a large sauté pan over high heat, heat enough olive oil to thoroughly coat the entire bottom of the pan (it should come about ¼ inch up the sides of the pan). In a separate saucepan, bring the marinara sauce to a simmer.

When the oil is hot and rippling, carefully fill the pan with as many meatballs as you can without overcrowding it. You have to work in batches so that the pan stays hot enough to really sear them. Turn the meatballs as you sear them, to ensure that they develop a nice brown caramelization on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes total.

As they’re finished searing, place the meatballs directly into the simmering marinara.

Cook the meatballs in the marinara for about 45 minutes, then serve with pasta.

*Although I doubt you’ll have leftovers, because these meatballs are so deli­cious, you can use any remaining meatballs and sauce for easy midweek meatball wedges (or hoagies or submarine sandwiches or whatever they’re called where you live!).

Makes 4 to 6 cups

When I was a kid, all I knew was marinara in a jar. Both of my parents worked, so they were super busy and had to feed us kids in a hurry! But this sauce is just as easy to make as it is to buy. Yes, it takes close to an hour to cook, but you don’t have to babysit it — throw the ingredients into a pot when you get home from work and by the time you set the table, throw in a load of laundry, put together a salad, and gather the family, it’s time to cook and drain the pasta, and dinner is ready. And don’t ever just make enough for one night! Make a dou­ble batch, throw it in the freezer, and use the leftovers later in the week or for weeks to come. 

1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup white wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 fresh basil leaves
½ tablespoon dried oregano

In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, sauté the onion, garlic, and chili flakes in the olive oil until translucent and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the white wine and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.

Add the plum tomatoes and their juices, the salt, basil leaves, and oregano and stir well.

Use a potato masher, whisk, or hand blender to break down the tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, or until the sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon.

Reprinted with permission from The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag (William Morrow Cookbooks).

The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag

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