RECIPES | There’s something so satisfying about big Italian American style meatballs in red sauce isn’t there. Served atop a plate of spaghetti, with a generous mountain of grated cheese, they’re one of the ultimate comfort foods.
My recipe is based upon the version in the Frankies Spuntino cookbook. Frankies Spunitino is an Italian American restaurant that opened in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, in 2004. The cookbook came out in 2010, and I purchased a copy during my first visit to New York City in 2011.
I’ve made these meatballs many times over the years, with a few tweaks. I use a bit less mince, exclude the raisins, use Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of Pecorino-Romano, and add dried basil, oregano, and chilli flakes to my red sauce. They’re delicious, and when I know that I’m making them for dinner I can’t stop thinking about them all day.
Despite visiting NYC several times since that first trip, I’d never actually been to the restaurant until my trip in April 2019. I was solo that day, enjoying a few beers at the fantastic Other Half and had spent a bit more time (and had a few more drinks) with an assortment of people I’d met at the brewpub. A guy from London who’d extended his business trip to explore the city over the weekend, and two guys from New Jersey, one of whom was born and bred there and the other who had come over from Sweden as a student and decided to stay.
We had a good chat, talked about travel and life and shared a few expensive bottles of beers that none of us would have been able to drink by ourselves. The kind of easy Sunday afternoon that sums up much of what I love about travel. We said our goodbyes around 2:30pm and I figured it was probably a good idea to have some food. As chance would have it, Frankies was only a five minute walk away.
I walked inside, sat at the bar, and was asked if I’d like to take a look at the menu. No need, I knew what I wanted. The meatballs soon arrived and wow. Eight years after first reading about them, I’d finally tried the famous Frankies meatballs at the source and they were spectacular.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes / Cooking Time: 25 to 30 minutes / Makes 18 to 20 meatballs
- 4 slices bread (2 packed cups’ worth)
- 800g lean beef mince
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus about 1 cup for serving
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 15 shakes of white pepper
- 4 large (~56g) eggs
- ½ cup dried bread crumbs
- 700g passata
- 2 ½ teaspoons dried basil
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon hot chilli flakes
- Preheat your oven to 160°C/325°F fan forced. Put the fresh bread in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it soak for a minute or so. Pour off the water and wring out the bread, then crumble and tear it into tiny pieces.
- Combine the bread with all the remaining ingredients except the passata, basil, oregano, and chilli flakes in a medium mixing bowl. Add the dried bread crumbs last to adjust for wetness: the mixture should be moist wet, not sloppy wet.
- Shape the meat mixture into handball-sized meatballs (~50g each) and space them evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The meatballs will be firm but still juicy and gently yielding when they’re cooked through. At this point, you can cool the meatballs and hold them in the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze them.
- Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the meatballs comfortably.
- Put the meatballs into the pan of sauce and simmer for half an hour so they can soak up some sauce. Keep them there until it’s time to eat.
- Eat the meatballs by themselves, as a side or, as I do, with some spaghetti. I find that a ratio of one meatball per 25g (uncooked weight) of spaghetti is perfect.
Excerpted and adapted from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo, Peter Meehan. Copyright © 2010 by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo, Peter Meehan. Published by Artisan Books, a division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc.