Rigatoni con le Polpettine (Meatballs)

2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 4-6 1x


  • For the sauce:
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 28 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, puréed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground blackpepper
  • 46 basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon suger – optional
  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 slices Italian bread, crusts removed
  • Milk, as needed – water as an alternative
  • 1 pound chopped beef, preferably sirloin
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1 pound rigatoni – or any pasta
  • Grated Parmigiano to serve

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  1. Prepare the sauce:
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden brown. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat, uncovered until reduced – about 1 hour.
  3. For the meatballs:
  4. In a large bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, Parmigiano, parsley, and garlic. Add the beaten eggs and mix. Dip the bread in milk or water, squeeze out most of the liquid and mix it into the egg mixture. When the ingredients are thoroughly combined, add the meat and use your hands to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Take a handful of the meat mixture, shape into a medium sized ball – about 2 ounces, maximum, and repeat until you have used all of the meat mixture. In a large skillet, over medium-low heat, add 1/4 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, place the meatballs in the skillet, with enough room to allow you to easily flip them over. Cook the meatballs, in batches, until brown on all sides – careful not to burn them. Remove them from the skillet and add to the tomato sauce, and cook together, over low heat, for about an hour.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  6. Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package directions). Drain and place in a serving bowl. Mix in some sauce.
  7. Serve with two meatballs per person and grated Parmigiano.

Ed's Review

Oh, if I could only hold my dear grandmother’s hand just one more time… I would make a mold of her palm — the very palm that produced the most perfect-sized meatballs ever made. Of course, questions about secret ingredients and how much pressure she exerted would remain unanswered, but at least one variable would be removed from my quest to replicate the world’s best meatball. Below is all the information we have available. She got the recipe from her mother-in-law from Avellino, in Campania.

Like so many Italian foods in America, especially the ones with southern Italian origins, there is a misconception that meatballs are somehow more American than Italian. We can argue about the correct pasta pairing, the appropriate size of the ball, at what point they should be eaten during the meal, and even about the different potential ingredients, but there is no doubt that a meatball, correctly prepared, is very Italian, albeit southern Italian.  There is certainly no doubt that it is universally loved. So please, practice away, teach your kids, and pass down your own little ball of happiness.

Note. My grandmother claimed that the order in which the ingredients are combined is key. And also, you need some patience: fry them slowly over low heat.

Ed Garrubbo

8 thoughts on “Rigatoni con le Polpettine (Meatballs)”

  1. This really makes me want to talk to my mother about her meatball recipe (which she learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on). I can remember once listening to my grandmother say “it’s easy… it’s all in the hands”. She would say that the ingredients were only a small part of the equation and that since her family never had much money that they would “make do with what they had” and that the true goodness of the meatball was “all in the hands”. Now, I just have to figure out what that means. I do know that she was adamant that the meatball not be too “dense”. She always complained that store-bought meatballs were like rocks.

  2. Great article! The picture makes me want to eat right now. Funny because I just finished making these meatballs and sat down to check my email. So true, grandma said it was “in the order” that made the difference. Of course she kept them small! I do agree that it came from the ciccones. The region seems to confirm that. I remember eating next door at my grandmas & aunt Jennies and I never thought the meatballs were different. Great job with your site…keep blessing us all!

  3. Senor Garrubbo,
    You’re a man after my own Italian heart. The meatballs are just like my Mom’s recipe. She never met a measuring spoon or cup. By hand, by smell, by taste. She’s been gone since 2007. But I made the meatballs
    recently; and I can’t tell you how close I felt to her! Delicious in every way. Grazie!

  4. Hello Signor Garrubbo! Ashley came home from school today telling me about the “Garrubbo Guide” so we decided to check it out together 🙂 With the maiden name “Gambale”, I knew I was in for a treat. We are looking forward to trying your Rigatoni & Meatballs recipe. Our mouths are watering just looking at the photo.

    Mangia Bene Vivi Felice – I speak no Italian but am attempting to say – Eat Well, Live Happy!!

  5. Your Rigatoni and Meatball recipe seems very close to my mom’s recipe. She is still alive but does not have a written recipe. As a little girl, I helped her shape the meatballs. She kept a little water running out of the kitchen faucet and we would shape the meatballs into little round balls, get our fingers wet with the water and finish rolling them around in our hand gently one more time. Then into the skillet they would go, and the smell…oh the smell filled the kitchen with such aroma! Thank you so much for your recipe!


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