Meatballs al forno are the A-listers of the meatball set. They’re on the menu at Nancy Silverton’s Mozza restaurant in Los Angeles and they’ve got the reputation for being the best meatballs in the world. Take a bite, I think you’ll agree.
Today I’m making the fabulous Meatballs al forno, a signature dish at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles.
This amazing meatball recipe comes from Nancy Silverton, Cordon Bleu educated chef, cookbook author, restaurateur, and co-founder of the Los Angeles based La Brea Bakery. The recipe also appears in her 8th cookbook, The Mozza Cookbook.
At the restaurant the meatballs are served Italian style, in a little bowl with sauce, not piled on top of a mountain of spaghetti like Americans eat them. I’ve come to love them this way best, and they make a wonderful lower carb light meal.
What you’ll need to make meatballs al forno
- ground pork
- veal (I used ground beef)
- day old bread
- Parmesan cheese
- yellow onion
- olive oil
- red pepper flakes, bay leaves, salt, and pepper
A combination of pork beef, and pancetta makes these meatballs extra flavorful
The original recipe calls for veal, which I don’t eat, so I substituted good quality Angus ground beef. The pancetta adds a nice flavor so I don’t recommend omitting it, although the very first time I made these I sent my husband out for the meat, and the butcher misunderstood and gave him prosciutto instead of pancetta. That worked too! I think the combination of different meats, the milk soaked bread, and all that good Parm is key to why these meatballs are so good.
These amazing oven braised meatballs take some time, but they’re totally worth it!
There is a fair amount of prep and I recommend you do it ahead, and maybe even go so far as to use those little prep dishes for your ingredients since for much of this process you will be up to your elbows in raw meat. In other words, don’t plan on chatting on the phone while you put together these babies.
TIP: When mixing the meat, Silverton advises you to “use the tips of your fingers as if you were playing the piano” to avoid tough meatballs. I find that using my KitchenAid stand mixer makes the best tool for mixing meatballs and meatloaves. It combines everything more thoroughly than I can do with my hands, but still gently so that the results are super tender.
Verdict: 2 thumbs up!
I had high hopes for these meatballs because of their reputation, and I wasn’t disappointed. They are light and almost airy…with subtle flavor. I really liked them with the simple clean tomato sauce. I ‘m making meatball sandwiches on good crusty Italian bread with the leftovers tomorrow.
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Meatballs al forno
- 3/4 cup diced day old crustless bread
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (about 6 ounces)
- 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, minced (about 1 cup)
- 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 2 extra large eggs
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes, add more if you prefer
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground veal (I used ground beef)
- 6 1/2 ounces pancetta, finely minced
- All-purpose flour for dredging (about a cup)
- 1/4 cup extra- virgin olive oil, more if needed
- 28 ounce jar of your favorite tomato sauce
- 3 dried bay leaves
- fresh thyme leaves or more chopped parsley
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Put the stale bread in a small bowl, pour in the milk, and set aside to soak the bread for about 5 minutes.
- Put the Parmesan, onion, parsley, eggs, garlic, ground red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and blend well. Add the pork, veal (or beef), and pancetta.
- Squeeze the bread to drain, and discard the excess milk. Add the bread to the bowl with the other ingredients and mix lightly with your fingertips. (I will sometimes do this in my KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment.) Make sure everything gets well combined, but don't over work, as this makes the meat tough.
- Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop out the meat and roll each portion into a ball. Each meatball should be about 2 ounces.
- Pour the flour into a large bowl and lightly coat the meatballs in the flour, shaking off any excess. Place them on a platter or baking sheet. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for an hour (or overnight if you want to do this ahead.) This helps firm up the meatballs so they hold their shape.
- Pour the olive oil into a large Dutch oven or ovenproof skillet to about 1/4 inch deep. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking, about 2 to 3 minutes. Working in two batches, place the meatballs in a single layer in the pan and sear them until they are lightly browned all over, being gentle when turning them so they don't fall apart. Remove the meatballs to a plate.
- Wipe out the pan and then return the meatballs to the pan. Pour the tomato sauce over them.
- Add the bay leaves and and place the meatballs in the oven to gently cook for 1 hour. Let the meatballs rest, out of the oven, for 10 minutes before serving.
- To serve, lay the sauce down on a plate or bowl and top with the meatballs. Allow 3 per serving. Top with parmesan and fresh herbs.
- The original recipe includes a quart of chicken stock mixed with the tomato sauce, and then poured over the meatballs. I almost always omit the stock, fyi, because I like a thicker sauce.
- Even though it’s not strictly authentic, go ahead and serve these meatballs with spaghetti or over polenta if you’re craving more carbs.
- I love to slice the leftover meatballs in half, load up a split French roll with the meat and extra sauce, and then top with slices of mozzarella ~ a little time under the broiler and you’ve got the best leftovers you’ve ever had!