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The Best Meatballs Ever

Moms meatballs. The secret ingredient: stale bread soaked in milk.

Mom's meatballs. The secret ingredient: stale bread soaked in milk.

By Laura Giannatempo, contributor

October 28th, 2009

Who doesn't want to come home after a long day at work to a hearty, delicious homecooked meal ready at the table? My mom's visiting from Italy, so that's exactly what's happening in our household these days. And I'm not complaining.

Last night she made her famous meatballs (well, at least in our family). They're the simplest thing ever. Forget three types of ground meat. All it takes her is good quality ground beef, eggs, good grated Parmigiano, salt and pepper, and a little grated nutmeg. She does have a secret ingredient, though: a little stale bread soaked in milk, squeezed, and finely chopped. It makes the meatballs incredibly moist and tender. And then there's the Cognac. She browns the meatballs in olive oil and deglazes the pan with Cognac before adding chopped tomatoes (canned San Marzano's are great) to make the sauce. The meatballs simmer in the tomato sauce for a good long while and get even more melt-in-your mouth tender.

I make mom's meatballs all the time, but I've gotta tell you: somehow they taste better when she makes them and they're waiting for me on the plate—piping hot and delicious.

If you have a favorite meatball recipe (your mom's or an adaptation of someone else's), please share it with us.

Update: A few of you have asked for my mom's recipe, but the truth is, like a lot of great cooks, she just doesn't cook that way. She works her meatballs up from memory, consulting only her senses as she goes (when I make them, I do the same).

I do have recipes to share though, and these, like mom's, are tried and true:

Spaghetti and Meatballs Spicy Meatballs
It's not mom's, but it's a true classic from the Fine Cooking archive: Spaghetti and Meatballs.   And, for those of you who like meatballs with a kick: Spicy Meatballs with Fragrant Tomato Sauce.
posted in: Blogs, italian, Cognac, meatballs, tomato sauce, Parmigiano, San Marzano
Comments (15)

SharonCataldo writes: Can I ask how much bread and milk soaked for 2 pounds of ground beef? I don't see a recipe here. Posted: 2:19 pm on September 8th

SharonCataldo writes: I will try the soaked bread instead of bread crumbs. My meatballs are tasty, but a little on the hard side. I only use good beef, not a pork fan. I'm trying to perfect a recipe for our little cafe we plan to open soon.
Thank you,
Sharon Posted: 2:18 pm on September 8th

eclark writes: Laura,
Your Mom sounds like a true food artist. My meatball recipe is whatever is left over in the fridge (within reason like a serving of greenbean cassarole with french's onions on top, or roasted carrots, etc.), and then all the basic stuff . Oh, but one can soak those bread crumbs in the tomato juice from canned stewed tomatoes. I like to roll out all ingredients, except the soaked bread in tomato juice and cut up stewed tomatoes. Layer those on top and gently fold it together for a light and fluffy mixture. I dislike blenderized and packed meatballs or meatloaf.
BUT! because of your article, I am going to use Cognac. That sounds delicious. I bet as you go along like your Mom, you'll adjust each dish until perfection as she has. Posted: 7:17 am on April 13th

Pulki writes: With winter still very much with us in the northeast, I've been baking about two loaves of sourdough bread a week. A few weeks ago I was going to make meatballs, so decided to use some heals I'd put in the freezer. After soaking them in milk and dicing up, I put them in the meat mixture, and was very pleased with the results. I know this isn't a new concept, but Lauras' article reminded me to try it. Posted: 2:16 pm on February 24th

missyeve writes: I was very disapointed not to see a recipe. I also cook by feel, but I can still write it down for hospitality sake! Isn't the recipe the point here! Posted: 11:56 am on February 15th

NutritiousGourmet writes: Milk soaked bread a SECRET? When I was 7 yrs old I started cooking and we ALWAYS soaked some bread for meatballs and also meatloaf. It does help keep both moist, but it is no secret - this was a way the immigrants stretched the meat to feed large families. Your recipe is basic and probably good tasting, but i will always revert to what I learned almost 70 years ago. Posted: 5:03 pm on January 13th

caroljay99 writes: About the recipe: Laura described a method. As she said, her Mom doesn't cook with defined recipes. She has developed a method she likes, and that is what she uses to prepare the meatballs. I looked at the FC recipe for meatballs, and Laura actually tells you how to adapt it. I do this adaptation thing all of the time. In FC's recipe, you use 3 kinds of meat, whereas Laura's Mom uses all beef. She moistens her bread crumbs with milk, and she deglazes the suate pan with cognac. Otherwise, you can use the FC recipe to guide your way. Eventually, you may develop your own unique method, that only partially resembles any written recipe you have seen. Like Laura, I have a bank of memories of my Mom's methods, for turkey and dressing, pot roast, fried catfish with hushpuppies, Easter ham. No recipes, just methods she used that had been passed down and adapted by dozens of home cooks. I make those dishes as often as I can, modifying and adapting the methods to my own taste, carrying on the tradition and remembering my mother. I miss her every day, but I can feel close to her in this one particular way. Posted: 5:25 pm on January 8th

lobsterwoman writes: I don't want to see a picture of beautiful meatballs and read an article about how great they are...and then be told the recipe is secret. What's the point? This has been happening a lot on this site lately and I just don't get it?
I don't want to read about other people's great recipe's but not be able to get the recipe. You really need to stop this. Posted: 8:06 am on January 4th

LauraGiannatempo writes: That's the idea, Elonios: to inspire new versions of a favorite. Glad you enjoyed your new "recipe." Posted: 1:59 pm on November 5th

Elonios writes: This just inspired me to make spaghetti and meatballs. Kind of followed your moms "recipe" added milk soaked bread, nutmeg, parmesan, parsley and then garlic, basil, ground turkey and sausage. Deglazed the pan with cognac-which was delicious and finished with tomato sauce. Served it all over homemade spaghetti and it was delicious. Thanks for the inspiration. Posted: 10:20 pm on November 4th

jamiewardorlando writes: That's just wrong.....I guess I can wait until Monday. Happy Halloween everyone. Posted: 9:34 am on October 31st

raitken_fcweb writes: Sorry, everybody. . .you'll have to be in suspense until Monday. Everyone is at the Chocolate Show in NYC today. And, it may actually be just what baknbak said, "a little of this, a little of that." Stay tuned for additional details next week. Posted: 4:32 pm on October 30th

dcraddock writes: where is the "recipe"?? Posted: 6:47 pm on October 29th

baknbak writes: same as above. where is the exact recipe??????????????

a little of this, a little of that, but no recipe. i hope this a mistake, if not what is the point to this. Posted: 4:03 pm on October 29th

whall5 writes:

All I get is a picture. Why can't I get the recipe?? Posted: 11:33 am on October 29th

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