Posted by: King Bee | June 22, 2008

Not Your Mama’s Meatballs

Not Your Mama’s Meatballs

– by Bob Merrick

About four years ago, I was watching Rocco Di Spirito make his mom’s meatballs on a talk show. They looked delicious and I couldn’t wait to try them. Around that same time, my aunt and uncle took me to New York for my birthday and the theater trip of a lifetime. On my personal agenda was to sample Mama’s Famous Meatball’s from Rocco’s now defunct restaurant, but time never permitted and it didn’t happen. Over the years I have sampled and enjoyed other meatballs (Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica still may be my favorite meatball sandwich EVER), but I have yet to make or try Rocco’s.

Yesterday, Andrew and I met fellow food lovers Jo and Peter at our new discovery (and local staple unbeknown to us), The Monte Carlo Italian Deli in Burbank, where Andrew was happily enjoying the meatballs. I, being the good boyfriend wanting to keep his man happy, was determined to make delicious meatballs at home for him and thought this would make for a great excuse to finally try out Mama / Rocco’s recipe. Which is kind of what I did, until of course I made my own changes (i.e. bought the wrong ingredients but figured out a way to make them work). Below I have captured the recipe I made as well as some of the photos during the process. I am happy to say I think they may be the most delicious meatballs I have ever tasted, which is proof that accidents can be a good thing in cooking.  


2lbs hamburger
4 Italian Sausages mild
4 Italian Sausages spicy
1 onion
1 hearty handful fresh basil
3/4 can of beef broth
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons of Red Pepper Flakes
2 eggs
3/4 to 1 cup of breadcrumbs (I found Parmesan flavored)
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Garlic Salt (I always use Lawrys), Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

For starters, get your sauce going. Since I was making this for the first time, I opted out for jarred sauce that I doctored up (I find Classico and Paul Newman make a few nice options. I try not to get them too sweet (like Ragu) or they require a lot of cooking as well as doctoring).

For the meatballs, I threw the basil, onion, garlic and beef stock into my mini-chop (a Cuisinart is much more preferred if you have one). It essentially made a nice pesto. I poured it into my large mixing bowl and added the meat (be sure you remove the skin from the sausage), 2 eggs, red pepper flakes, garlic salt, salt and pepper, the Parmesan, and drizzled a small amount of olive oil.

With clean hands, just stick them in and start mashing it together. Every time my hand goes into a mix like this, I am reminded of making meatloaf with my grandfather as a child. There’s something about being a boy that makes you like playing with sticky and slimy things.

Now, Mama’s recipe says not to over mix, but I want the sausage and the hamburger to really blend together so that you don’t have altering textures in your mouth (this is also a good opportunity to admit I never saw that veal was supposed to be an ingredient as well, and honestly I don’t think it was missed). Mix and mix until all of your flavors have fallen in love and married.

Next up was rolling them into balls.

The original recipe suggests making them a little larger than a golf ball. This is a good suggestion. I decided that since I was making meatballs as the main attraction and not a side, I would make them man sized.

Man sized is a dumb idea. It makes it harder to keep their shape and even harder to turn while you are browning them (which you should do by placing them in a large skillet with a nice layer of olive oil over a medium heat).

So for the second batch, I made them much smaller and they worked much better…

Transfer the meatballs to the pot with the marinara sauce and simmer for one hour.

You can serve them over pasta (which I am trying to avoid so I served them on a plate with some fresh Parmesan).

A nice slice of Pugliese bread is really nice at the end to sop up the extra marinara. While you are at it, I am sure that combo would make for an out of this world sandwich. These turned out really great. They weren’t mushy and they weren’t greasy and the basil and the chili flakes gave each bite just enough of a kick but didn’t leave you with any heat (which I prefer as I am not a fan of things too spicy). Let me know if you try this or if you have suggestions of you own! Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, they kept my man happy!

So good you can almost taste it

Generated by Flickr Album Maker


  1. It’s not even 9am and yet I still want to eat those!

  2. Bob, thoses look delicious. I’m going to have to try this recipe next time I make meatballs. Megan has been bugging me for some, so I’ll have to try it soon. Thanks!

  3. Bob, you’re a master craftsman. That presentation is delectable. I have to wipe my screen from where I tried to taste it. Thanks! Seriously, they look delicious.

  4. wow, these are great recpies. i’ll have to try some very soon. great pictures too, really helps.

  5. are these your own?

  6. Sorry Mama DiSpirito…. Bob’s meatballs look better than yours!

  7. I love this post…I can’t wait to try this recipe!!

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