Roman Style Meatballs (with prosciutto!!)

I recently bought The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser, a food columnist for the New York Times. It’s MASSIVE (just about the size of a small cat actually) and I love it. It’s a compilation of all noteworthy recipes that were published in the New York Times since it started covering food in the 1850’s.

Usually I use recipes as more of a guideline rather than an exact instruction, but I wanted to make a recipe from this book exactly how it was intended for the NY Times readers when it was originally published. I chose the NY times meatball recipe from 1979, or “Polpette Alla Romana (Roman-Style Meatballs)” for my first endeavor for two reasons. (1) Meatballs are the BEST, easily one of my top five favorite dishes and (2) these meatballs contain prosciutto. Yep, prosciutto. I get happy even typing the word prosciutttttto. PROSCIUTTO.


Heres the recipe:

Polpette Alla Romama (Roman-Style Meatballs) from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Hesser, 527).

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 1/4 pounds ground beef
  • 1/4 pound slices prosciutto, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon of finely minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Sauce

  • 1/4 cup olive oil OR finely diced pancetta, diced bacon, salt pork or ham fat (I used bacon fat and it was fabulous)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup finely diced zucchini
  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes peeled or 3 cups canned tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil

1. To make the meatballs, put the beef in a bowl, add the prosciutto, and blend.

2. Combine the bread crumbs and milk in another bowl and blend well. Looking back, I should have blended this better – it was too chunky and didn’t distribute evenly in the meatball mixture.

Let stand for a minute or so, and add to the beef. Add garlic, grated cheese, eggs, nutmeg and parsley. Add a little salt (the prosciutto is salty already) and pepper to taste.

Blend the mixture well.

Shape into about 36 meatballs, each about 1 1/2 inch in diameter. Sidenote: The recipe says, “don’t mush the balls together when shaping – and you won’t do that right? Because I’ll lose sleep if you do. So don’t!” I didn’t realize how important this was until I read that – don’t mush if you want fluffy and light meatballs!

see the huge breadcrumb chunks? Thats why I should have blended better. Next time…

3. To prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion, carrots, celery and zucchini and cook, stirring often, until the onion starts to brown.

4. Put the tomatoes into a food processor or blender and blend. Add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and add the basil. Set aside.

5. To cook the meatballs, heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the meatballs a few at a time; do not crowd them. Brown them all over, turning often so they cook evenly. When each batch is cooked, remove it and cook another, until all the balls are browned.

6. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for about 15 minutes, turning the balls in the sauce occasionally.


I served the meatballs with whole wheat linguine, parmesan (obviously), and spinach. Disregard that burnt piece of bread in the back :-/ . I was too focused on the meatballs and forgot about the bread in the oven! Oops.

These meatballs were perfect. They were light and flavorful, exactly how they were intended to be. Parsley is key, it makes the meatballs taste really fresh.  The prosciutto blends in really well, you don’t taste individual pieces but you can tell it’s there.

The sauce was what really surprised me about this recipe. It’s so simple, easy and quick. The simplicity of the sauce really made the flavors of the meatball stand out. The key ingredient here is definitely the bacon fat, it added so much flavor to the sauce. I ended up doubling the sauce recipe because I wanted to make sure there was enough sauce for the pasta. If you’re making meatballs on their own, a single portion of the sauce is enough.

What I learned about making meatballs:

  1. Make sure to blend the bread crumbs and milk really well before adding to the beef.
  2. Don’t mush the meat when shaping the balls. (That’s what she said).
  3. A simple sauce makes the meatballs the star of the show.
  4. Bacon fat never hurt anyone.
  5. Prosciutto is and always will be god’s gift to the universe.
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10 Responses to Roman Style Meatballs (with prosciutto!!)

  1. Rachel Raczka says:


  2. RIKI says:

    NOM. I had the honor of partaking in this delicious meal, and I have to say I kinda liked the way you got bits of breadcrumbs. i cant wait to make this!!

  3. sam says:

    seriously regretting not coming over for this meal. looks awesome! LOVE Karl and the book!

  4. Megan says:

    Those meatballs sound awesome!! I love prosciutto. I should be getting my hands on that cookbook at the end of the week, and I can’t wait to check out all the recipes in there.

  5. Joanne says:

    I want this cookbook. Badly. Really super duper badly. Especially after seeing these meatballs. You are fueling some serious cravings with these.

  6. Sues says:

    Oh, I’m definitely, definitely making these. They look OUT of this world. And I absolutely need that cookbook 🙂

  7. Pingback: The Essential New York Times Cookbook Pot Luck | Just Add Cheese!

  8. Food Covers says:

    Thanks for giving instructions on how to create these meatballs. Does the type of food cover make a difference in how long you can preserve the mixture before cooking?

  9. Pingback: Polpette alla Romano (Roman-Style Meatballs) with Prosciutto « We are not Martha

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