Italian Meatballs

Italian Meatballs on The Creekside CookI should start by admitting that I am not, in the least bit, of Italian heritage. We have a lot of German on one side and some Scots on the other and the rest is most likely a hodge-podge, much as is the case with a lot of Americans.

But, I grew up in an area of Upstate NY where at one time, the primary economic force was a company called Endicott Johnson, a shoe manufacturing company. Because it was relatively easy to find a decent job here, it was an area that attracted a lot of immigrants from various parts of Europe and immigrants from Italy were very well represented in that number. Growing up, it seemed there was an Italian restaurant on every corner – not at all a bad thing, I assure you.

We were Catholic, so as you might imagine, we knew a lot of the Italian families in our little town, and if you think having a lot of Italian restaurants is a fine thing, being invited to dinner by Italian families is even better. These wonderful Italian cooks were very generous with their recipes as well, which meant my Mom was also a very good Italian cook, even though no one in her family had likely ever been closer to Italy than a can of Chef Boyardee.

The meatballs my Mom always made, were called “Lee’s Meatballs”, because my Mom had gotten the recipe from Lee, and that is how it was labeled in her recipe box. I have only the vaguest memory of Lee herself, but her meatballs were, and remain, a thing of beauty. I have not changed them very much – they have more breadcrumbs now because Mario Batali says that Americans don’t use enough bread in our meatballs, and I always listen to Mario. I use fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, and I’m not sure the recipe has always had onions in it like it does now.ingredients for italian meatballsFor the most part though, this the same recipe that we enjoyed often while growing up.

Italian Meatballs
Recipe type: Beef
Serves: about 20 to 30 meatballs
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 1 & ½ pound ground beef round
  • 1 & ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • ¾ cup tomato sauce
  • 3 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 20 grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried, or 3 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley
  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl, and use you hands to combine thoroughly.
  2. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper and set the oven to 400ΒΊ.
  3. I portion these with a large or medium cookie scoop so that they are a uniform size. Once you have them portioned, roll gently with wet hands to form smooth balls, and space evenly on the cooking sheet
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until they are cooked through and nicely browned on the outside.
  5. Remove to a plate or bowl to cool off and discard the accumulated fat in the pan.
  6. I like to use these by simmering in spaghetti sauce for a half hour or so, which allows them to permeate the sauce with their flavor, and then serving over cooked pasta.
  7. The meatballs can frozen for later use - wrap tightly so that they don't get freezer burnt.
In addition to spaghetti and meatballs, these are wonderful in meatball sandwiches or subs [hoagies], cut up to use in lasagna or baked ziti, or just plain, dipped in a spicy tomato sauce.

Sadly, Endicott Johnson no longer exists – click on the link for the Wikipedia story about the company, which was pretty unique in this country. I even worked in one of the factories one summer, though my association with that factory was not long-lived, without doubt, in part, due to it’s proximity to a bar that served 10 cent draft beers at lunchtime.

These Italian Meatballs live on though, a fate which they richly deserve – I hope they’ll become a favorite of yours too.

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23 thoughts on “Italian Meatballs

  1. I wish I lived someplace with great Italian neighbours and restaurants! I don’t have either! I am a fairly good Italian cook too because I’ve improved on all the bad Italian restaurant dishes! These meatballs look wonderful, I’m not a big fan of meat sauce but I do like meat balls (it’s a texture thing!)

    • We don’t have as many as we used to either which is a shame – too many chains around for all of the Mom & Pop places to compete.

      I once felt the same about meat sauces, but I have come to enjoy them more lately – in fact I am working on a Bolognese sauce to share here!

  2. Just walked in from The Chop with meatball fixings and look what I found in my mail! I remember those Endicott restaurants as well…my Dad’s favorite was Fuscos, which is gone now. I have a very similar story and recipe…my aunt worked at EJ and had some wonderful Polish and Italian recipes, but mine comes from Italian friends in Jamestown NY. The furniture factories there also drew immigrant workers, most prominently Italian and Swedish folks. I’m going to try your recipe tonite…although I think I’m out of eggs come to think of it!

  3. AND…have you ever made meat logs? Our school friend Jeannie P.’s mom made them with a slic of mozzarella inside…Little Venice in Binghamton makes log shaped meatballs, too.

  4. These sound similar to the meatballs I make…but I’m going to try your recipe as I just throw these ingredients together without exact measurements. I think a tried and true recipe will be even better!

  5. How funny to read your meatball recipe. It’s strange that I left Lee’s name on this recipe because I changed it a lot myself and you have changed it even more. By the way, Lee and her husband Dick were your brother’s Godparents. I love it when you share recipes from our family. Not that I don’t enjoy all your recipes. You are a wonderful cook and so generous to share with so many people Love you, Honey

  6. I was looking for the perfect meatball recipe for my dinner party and am so pleased to have found it – and from a fellow Binghamtonian no less! My great-grandmother came over from Sicily and worked at EJ. Thanks for sharing your story, I am happy to have shared your wonderful memories.

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