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.
VINTAGE VIEW ~ these amazing meatballs al forno are from TVFGI archives. As part of a new series on the blog I’m reviving some of the best recipes that you may have missed over the years ~ I’ve updated the recipe and notes, and shot new photos. First published in 2011 (the very first year I started blogging,) this recipe has been a family staple ever since, I think you’re going to love it!
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.
I’ve lived here in Los Angeles for 25 years and I can tell you that when Nancy Silverton opened the La Brea Bakery with her husband in 1989 she brought artisan quality breads to a city bereft of a ‘bread culture’. I’m talking pre-fab white bread on the tables of fine restaurants, and bakeries filled with doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies…everything but real honest bread. For all of our years in LA we relied on the La Brea breads for everything from baguettes to croissants. It’s no surprise to me that the brand soon went nationwide.
In later years Silverton went on to open several restaurants, including the hip Melrose Avenue Osteria Mozza and Pizzaria Mozza with partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, and author many cookbooks.
Today I’m making the fabulous Meatballs al forno, a signature dish at Osteria Mozza. 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.
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.
This is a dish that takes some time. 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.
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.
Do you love meatballs as much as I do? Here are some of my other favorites ~
- MOROCCAN LEMON AND CARDAMOM MEATBALLS
- HOW TO MAKE THE BEST BOURBON MEATBALLS EVER
- SWEDISH COCKTAIL MEATBALLS
- GREEK MEATBALLS IN LEMON SAUCE
- CHEESY SKILLET MEATBALLS WITH GARLIC TOAST
Below is the slightly adjusted recipe for Meatballs al forno, with my slightly simplified instructions. If you’d like more of Nancy’s recipes, check out her book, The Mozza Cookbook, or any of her other cookbooks.
Reader Rave ~
“One of these days, Sue, I expect to see you show up as a DNA match on my heritage page…just about every dish you post, grabs my food core! I made the meatballs tonight….they were incredible! My husband said they were the best he’s ever had! Thanks for another great recipe!” ~ Candace
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, plus a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
- 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
- 1-2 teaspoons pure ground red pepper flakes plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground veal I used ground Black Angus beef
- 6 1/2 ounces pancetta finely chopped or minced in a miniature food processor
- All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup extra- virgin olive oil plus more as needed
- 1 jar 25-28 ounces of your favorite tomato sauce
- 3 dried bay leaves
- more Parmesan
- fresh thyme leaves or more chopped parsley
- set oven to 350F
- Put the day- old bread in a small bowl, pour in the milk, and set aside to soak the bread for about 5 minutes.
- Combine the Parmigiano-Reggiano, onion, parsley, eggs, garlic, ground red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Add the pork, veal (or beef), and pancetta.
- Squeeze the bread in your fist to press out the milk, discarding the excess milk. Add the bread to the bowl with the other ingredients and use the tips of your fingers as if you were playing the piano to combine the ingredients without overworking them, which makes for heavy meatballs. (I mix everything up in my KitchenAid mixer.)
- Divide the meat into 2-ounce (give or take) portions and roll each portion into a ball. I use a 1/4 cup to scoop the meat mixture.
- Pour the flour into a large bowl for dredging. Dredge the meatballs in the flour, shake off any excess, and place them on a baking sheet. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the meatballs for at least an hour or overnight. (Refrigerating allows the fat in the meats to solidify so the meatballs maintain their shape when cooked.)
- Pour the olive oil into a large Dutch oven or ovenproof skillet and add more if needed to cover the bottom of the pan to 1?4 inch deep. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 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.
- Add more oil to the pan and heat it until it's almost smoking before cooking the second batch in the same way. Turn off the heat and wipe the oil and browned bits from the pan. Return the meatballs to the pan. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs.
- The amount of sauce you need will vary depending on the size of the vessel you are pouring it into, so add more or less as needed; you want them to be submerged but not drowning in the liquid. Add the bay leaves and and place the meatballs in the oven to braise for 1 hour. Remove the meatballs from the oven and allow them to rest in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.
- To serve, remove the meatballs to a plate and skim off and discard the fat from the sauce. Spoon a thin layer of sauce on a serving platter or individual plates, lay the meatballs on top of the sauce, serving 3 meatballs if you are using individual plates. Grate a thin dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the meatballs. Garnish with fresh thyme or more parsley.
Make it your own ~
- 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!
Don’t forget to pin these famous Meatballs al forno!