Meatballs al forno

taking a bite of meatballs al forno

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.

tasting meatballs al forno with a fork

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.

serving meatballs al forno from a large pot

What you’ll need to make meatballs al forno

  • ground pork
  • veal (I used ground beef)
  • pancetta
  • day old bread
  • milk
  • Parmesan cheese
  • yellow onion
  • olive oil
  • parsley
  • eggs
  • garlic
  • flour
  • red pepper flakes, bay leaves, salt, and pepper
showering Parmesan cheese over a small bowl of meatballs al forno

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.

Meatballs al forno, garnished with thyme sprig
making meatballs al forno, step by step

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.

meatballs al forno in a small bowl with fresh thyme

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.

meatballs al forno in a small white bowl

Craving meatballs?

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

taking a bite of meatballs al forno
3.98 from 38 votes

Meatballs al forno

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.
Course Dinner Recipes
Cuisine American
Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
chilling 1 hour
Yield 24 meatballs
Author Sue Moran


  • 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


  • Parmesan
  • 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.

Cook’s notes

  • 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!
*recipe lightly adapted from Nancy Silverton.  If you’d like more of Nancy’s recipes, check out her book, The Mozza Cookbook, or any of her other cookbooks.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.
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  • Reply
    May 14, 2021 at 3:33 pm

    5 stars
    This was lovely. I kept most of the recipe the same, but I combined pork, veal, and beef for the meatballs, a clean out the freezer event! I was short parmesan cheese, by about 1/4 cup, but that didn’t seem to matter. I had nice prosciutto so used that instead. Also, I’m stuck with gluten free bread, so I used that, and cornstarch instead of flour. All that seemed fine, in case anyone was wondering about gf bread. Do make the meatballs the day before! Lots of work! I froze half since there’s only two of us. I used the chicken broth with Rao’s tomato sauce, and no one could guess it was jarred sauce. I liked it with the broth as it seemed to round out the sauce. A delicious dinner, with polenta! Thank you, Sue!

  • Reply
    December 21, 2020 at 5:44 am

    5 stars
    I made this recipe last night exactly as written and it was divine! I don’t know if I can make my everyday meatballs again, this was so delicious. I think the pancetta is the ultimate secret ingredient. I made Ina Garten’s marinara sauce (I wanted to have plenty of sauce so I did 1 1/2 the original recipe and added some diced carrot for sweetness). Thanks so much Sue, I am new to your blog but it has quickly become one of the few blogs I look to several times a week.

  • Reply
    October 27, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    5 stars
    This was an amazing recipe! Absolutely delicious and everyone loved them.

  • Reply
    glenda lewis
    October 25, 2020 at 10:31 am

    I want to make these but will probably freeze some of them. Should I freeze them before or after baking them? Thnks.

    • Reply
      October 25, 2020 at 10:57 am

      You could do it either way, but best would be unbaked. Then you should take them out of the freezer and put in the fridge the night before you want to bake them.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2020 at 10:26 am

    5 stars
    I love a good meatball recipe, and this one looks like a winner!! Bookmarked to make later, thank you so much for the recipe 🙂

    • Reply
      October 25, 2020 at 11:03 am

      Hope you love it Cathleen.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2020 at 9:59 am

    5 stars
    Meatballs are a favorite in my house and these ones were a huge hit! We ate them on toasted ciabatta rolls and loved it. Will be making again. Thank you!

  • Reply
    October 25, 2020 at 8:59 am

    5 stars
    These meatballs are amazing!! Totally serving the with some pasta and having the leftovers as you suggest – in a baguette. YUM!

  • Reply
    October 25, 2020 at 8:40 am

    5 stars
    LOVE a good meatball and these look amazing! Can’t wait to give them a try 🙂

  • Reply
    Sisley White
    October 25, 2020 at 8:21 am

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious. I can’t make enough meatballs for my family and these were so good.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2017 at 10:56 am

    5 stars
    Now THESE are meatballs! 100% saving this recipe to come back to every time my Italian cravings hit.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    5 stars
    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!

    • Reply
      November 19, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      You made me laugh Candace, how fun to be foodie sisters!

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers
    November 15, 2017 at 7:13 am

    I can never, every resist a great meatball and tomato sauce, so I will be making these 🙂 Beautiful!

  • Reply
    November 14, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Oh I love this recipe. I love meatballs but never made them myself. I will have to use this recipe to make my own.

  • Reply
    Chris Scheuer
    November 14, 2017 at 5:22 am

    I never ever grow tired of Italian food and meatballs are on the top of my favorites list. Nancy Silverton’s recipes are always winners and we are also big fans of La Brea products! Can’t wait to try these!

  • Reply
    Vicki Bensinger
    November 13, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Sue these totally sound amazing! I love meatballs and will definitely be trying these and probably a few of the others posted.

    Also I just sent you and email – it appears when I click on the link from MailerLite to view your post it comes up as a Mallicious site. This is the third time it’s happened but it’s fine when I type and go directly to your site. Thought you’d want to know.

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks Vicki, I’ve got Mailerlite fixing that, it’s some sort of glitch, the site is fine, thanks for letting me know!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    That looks like a recipe that will give great meatballs. I would have to try with lamb and veal combo.

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      Let us know if you make it with the veal Roxana!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Those really do look like the best meatballs I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how large they are and still look light.

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    November 13, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Great tips for cooking meatballs and such lovely photos 🙂

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 9:36 am

    There is something with meatballs – is a treat! Your recipe is great Sue! If you allow me to make a slight addition…In remembrance to my grandmother -Ifigenie, the ultimate cook-: I add 1/4 cup ouzo in the mixture, pass the onion from the cheese grader which releases all juices, and mould the meat in-between my palms very gently -as if rolling eggs-!

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 9:40 am

      LOVE this Alexandra, I would never have thought of ouzo, what a wonderful flavor to add in. I wonder if it would make the mixture too wet? Might soak the bread in it rather than milk.

      • Reply
        November 13, 2017 at 10:28 am

        SO nice of you! Sue, the mixture will still be OK, and keep the milk in, you need it. Have you ever tried condensed milk?

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 9:32 am

    These meatballs look absolutely amazing!! And your gorgeous pictures are not helping with the drooling

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 9:35 am

      Protect your laptop or phone, Regina, I learned the hard way 😉

  • Reply
    Tricia @ Saving Room for Dessert
    November 13, 2017 at 6:29 am

    Goodness – it’s amazing how every time I visit your blog, I leave craving another amazing dish. My mother used to make pretty great meatballs that sound similar to these. There is nothing better than a tender well spiced meatball and piled on a roll with cheese is heaven on earth! Thank you for reviving this wonderful post and recipe!

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 7:13 am

      Thanks Tricia, I enjoy reviving these old posts, I really had some great recipes when i first started up the blog, and it’s fun to bring them back to life. And meatballs on a roll with mozzarella is truly heaven on earth ~ amen!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 5:59 am

    Love the pics!

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 7:23 am

      <3 Monique

  • Reply
    [email protected]'s Recipes
    November 13, 2017 at 4:04 am

    They look so juicy! my husband loves meatball, but not cheese…hopefully they would still taste as good as these without cheese..

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 7:11 am

      I thought as I ate these meatballs the other day that the large amount of Parm really does amp up the flavor, you could easily split the batch and make some for him without cheese and some with, for you 🙂

  • Reply
    January 15, 2015 at 6:13 am

    I was directed to your site by, the primary cooking blog I follow. I never leave comments anywhere, but thought I would here in case someone was dubious of these meatballs.

    I made these yesterday with a wonderful sauce and homemade chicken stock, cut the recipe in half since there are only two of us (leftovers are in the freezer for this weekend!). These were absolutely amazing, though slightly overcooked due to my negligence. I have tried for years to make good meatballs and always fail: they fall apart, they taste bland–the usual suspects. Now I understand the technique and also learned that stock really deepens the flavor of tomato sauce, and I will be adding this ingredient from now on.

    Thank you so much for your blog, which I will now patronize daily and look forward to reading your new posts.

    God bless.

    • Reply
      January 15, 2015 at 7:28 am

      thanks so much Jennifer— I really appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment. It’s been a while since I’ve made these wonderful meatballs, but I remember them well…welcome to TVFGI!

  • Reply
    December 21, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    I’ve made these twice, once without the Cayenne and once with…they are without a doubt the best meatball. Everyone asked for the recipe.

    Also, I froze some and then cooked those…and yes…still the best meatball ever.

    • Reply
      November 11, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks anon! I have to agree, they are the best!

  • Reply
    November 25, 2011 at 6:37 am

    Did I overlook the Passata de Pomodoro recipe? I don’t see it posted here…

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 8:12 am

      That is just the tomato sauce in the recipe, Anon. Nancy calls for her own sauce, but I’ve substituted regular tomato sauce from a jar.
      Here’s the recipe:
      Passata di Pomodoro
      2 28-ounce cans whole peeled plum tomatoes, including their juices (such as San Marzano)
      1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
      1 tablespoon sugar, plus more as desired
      1 scant tablespoon kosher salt
      1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



      For the Passata di Pomodoro: Pass the tomatoes, including their juices, through a food mill into a large bowl.

      Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until the oil is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato purée slowly as it will splatter when it hits the oil. Stir in the sugar, salt, and pepper, and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

      Use the passata or set it aside to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to several days or freeze for up to several months.

  • Reply
    Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits
    November 15, 2011 at 2:53 am

    What a good idea to refrigerate the meatballs before cooking them so they hold together better! Your photos are beautiful.

  • Reply
    Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen
    November 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Perfect for tuesday pastas!

  • Reply
    November 14, 2011 at 2:17 am

    Sound spicy with the addition of 3 tsp red pepper and 3 arbor chills! Great meat combination as well.

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 8:44 am

      It is spicy, Miranda, and I’ve toned that down in my 2017 update.

  • Reply
    Magnolia Verandah
    November 13, 2011 at 2:24 am

    I love a good meatball and even though I have a great recipe from Rosa Mitchell’s book called “My Cousin Rosa” these are worth trying also. And hey some mistakes in ingredients only go to making the recipe original. They look great too!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Wow! These sound fantastic and I know I’d love them. This was a terrific choice for the “fab 50” this week. I’ll have to give these a try. Have a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

  • Reply
    November 11, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    amazing!!! always…such an inspiration!

  • Reply
    Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes
    November 12, 2011 at 3:47 am

    There’s nothing better than homemade meatballs and I love making them. I’m going to give this recipe a try because it looks delicious!

    Have a great weekend!

  • Reply
    November 12, 2011 at 1:05 am

    These look SO GOOD! Great post!

  • Reply
    Kitchen Belleicious
    November 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Those meatballs look simply phenomenal. i love your combo of meat and flavors! Perfect with sauce, on a sandwich or just by themselves! Yum!

  • Reply
    November 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I have to admit these sound like a whole lot more work than I’m usually interested in doing for dinner, but my mouth is watering to try them. Pork. Beef and Pancetta (or Prosciutto) sounds like a truly awesome combination. All of the flavors must have been amazing together!

    • Reply
      November 13, 2017 at 8:45 am

      The good thing is that this recipe makes a lot of meatballs, plenty for the week, or to freeze for later meals.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Now those are some meatballs – interesting that they came out light and airy.

  • Reply
    hobby baker
    November 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Those look, from beginning to end, A-Mazing! YUM.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    I’d have been there on grilled cheese nights, for sure!
    Love the combo of meats in the meatballs, Sue. This is an amazing recipe! I love the variety of recipes we chose this week.

  • Reply
    Hungry Dog
    November 11, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    This is one of the most mouth-watering posts I have ever read! The photos, the description…what gorgeous meatballs!

    I love Osteria Mozza, one of my favorite restaurants. I did not know you lived in LA! I went to school down there, love that city, miss the weather.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Interesting post! There is nothing like a good crusty loaf of bread! While on vacation, we had lunch at a grilled cheese bar. It was awesome! These meatballs are Incredible! I am bookmarking this recipe! Have a great weekend!

  • Reply
    hostess of the humble bungalow
    November 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Oh my gosh those look fabulous.
    I know they’d be an instant favourite with my husband as he loves meatballs and sauce.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I have been looking for a new meatball recipe to be the star of the show and these fit the bill perfectly. Serve them with some artisan bread and you have captured our hearts and the essense of this great woman who deserves a spot on the list!

  • Reply
    Heather @
    November 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    These sound awesome…I love the meat combo! I know I would be a member of that cult following- I luvs me some grilled cheese!!

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