Meatballs. Sicilian-Style

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – Julia Child

     I’m not advocating eating pasta three meals a day. I think of pasta as the ultimate in comfort food, and once a week I like to treat myself. And, if I’m going to treat myself to some extra calories, I want it to be over the top. While I absolutely love spaghetti and meatballs, the Sicilian Meatball recipe featured in Men’s Journal (March 2018, page 24) is just the best.

This Isn’t Your Grandma’s Meatballs


     This was one of those recipes where the list of ingredients shocked me a bit. It had the usual cast of characters for meatballs: ground beef, egg, and bread crumbs. But it also added garlic, anchovy paste, and lemon zest. But the signature touch was the addition of golden raisins. The raisins seemed to make this special. I’m not a pine nuts fan, so I didn’t add them (although the nuts were listed in the recipe’s ingredients).

     It reminded me of a recipe, Chicken Marbella. It’s basically a baked chicken recipe where capers, brown sugar, Spanish green olives, and pitted prunes (yes, that’s right – pitted prunes) were added. I looked at this list of ingredients and asked myself, how can this work? Well, the combination makes for an absolutely delicious dish.

We Can Learn From This

     This should serve as a lesson to us. While it’s nice to follow a classic recipe religiously, it’s also good to experiment. And that’s probably what happened with these recipes. They prepared the meatballs and the chicken with what they had available. So, don’t be afraid to change the recipe even though it’s a classic. Delete and add. Try different culinary techniques. Be fearless and assume Julia’s what-the-hell attitude. And listen to your Godfather:


  “I’ll give you a Sicilian meatball recipe you can’t refuse. As far as changing the recipe(?) – fuhgitaboutit. It’s perfect the way it is.”

Sicilian Meatballs

yields: 12-16 Meatballs prep time: 60 Minutes cook time: 45 Minutes
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1 lb. 1 2 cloves 1/2 cup Zest 1/2 cup 1/2 cup 1 Tbsp 2 Tbsp 1 tsp
Ground beef (85/15 mix) Egg Garlic grated panko bread crumbs One lemon Parsley fresh chopped Golden raisins (a course chop or leave whole) Pine nuts (optional) Anchovy paste Kosher salt
  • 1 lb.
    Ground beef (85/15 mix)
  • 1
  • 2 cloves
    Garlic grated
  • 1/2 cup
    panko bread crumbs
  • Zest
    One lemon
  • 1/2 cup
    Parsley fresh chopped
  • 1/2 cup
    Golden raisins (a course chop or leave whole)
  • 1 Tbsp
    Pine nuts (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp
    Anchovy paste
  • 1 tsp
    Kosher salt


Allow about 2 hours for preparation time.

Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

  1. Add all of the ingredients to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mix gently with hands just until completely incorporated, but do not over mix. Form the meatballs by rolling them between your palms (about the size of a golf ball). Set on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator for about an hour. Note: You can do it in 20 minutes, but the meatball may come apart while cooking.

  2. About an hour before serving time, warm  the tomato sauce to slowly simmering in a Dutch oven. I use one jar of the commercial brand, usually a Marinara sauce.

  3. Take meatballs out of refrigerator. In a large skillet, add about 2 Tbsp of EVOO and sear meatballs on medium-heat turning frequently so all sides are browned. This should take about 10-12 minutes.

  4. With great care, transfer the meatballs to the tomato sauce in the Dutch oven. Set each meatball so that they aren’t touching. Cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes.

    In the meantime, boil your pasta so it is ready at the end of the tomato sauce/meatball mixture in Dutch oven.

  5. Add the pasta to the mixture in the Dutch oven and toss. I serve this in bowls. With a spoon I arrange the meatballs so they are on the surface, and then I use a squeeze bottle and drizzle some EVOO on top. I add some grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and parsley for décor, and that’s it. A side of good Italian bread and you have a dish you could serve your Godfather.

For a life-changing experience, the meatballs can be prepared without the pasta and then put into a meatball sub. Mamma Mia! Unforgettable!

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