Classic Italian Meatballs: Which recipe should roll onto the plate?

Fabio Viviani's Signature Meatballs
Fabio Viviani's Signature Meatballs / Fabio Viviani

Whether people start singing the old nursery rhyme or think about a more modern comic tale, meatballs are a favorite dish for many people. From Sunday Supper to a classic comfort food, people long to break into that perfectly cooked, round bite surrounded by sauce. Mastering a delicious recipe may not be as easy as it seems.

Although some people might think of meatballs as the gigantic orb served on a bed of pasta, the reality is that many cultures have a dish that can be considered a meatball. From China’s ingredient in a soup to the Persian kofta, the idea of ground meat combined into a round shape and served a variety of ways can be found across cuisines.

From the creamy, slightly tangy sauce that surrounds Swedish meatballs to a classic tomato sauce that balances the robust flavors in an Italian style recipe, one aspect remains the same, dense is never a good description, even though the dish tends to be hearty. The key to a great meatball is not necessarily the size, the sauce that smothers it, or how it is served. It is the combination of meat and textures that creates the perfect bite.

While he might have become a household name on Top Chef, Fabio Viviani is a successful restaurateur, entrepreneur, and businessman. Although there are many accolades attached to his name, his signature meatball recipe is one that many cooks would love to master.

The reason why his classic Italian meatballs are so delicious is the perfect balance in the bite. They are meaty but the texture is luscious. From the creamy note from the cheese to the change in texture from the finely minced onion, every aspect comes together in perfect harmony.

Fabio Viviani graciously shared his signature meatball recipe for everyone to enjoy.

Fabio Viviani’s Signature Meatballs

Ingredients :

1.5lb.ground Beef 80/20

4oz. whole Milk Ricotta cheese

1.5cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1.5cup Panko breadcrumbs

1 whole Egg

3 cloves Garlic, minced

2.5 Shallots or 1⁄4 cup Onion, finely minced

1.5 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

2.5 cups finished Tomato Sauce *recipe below*

Fresh Parsley, chopped, for garnish

 Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for drizzling

1 pound Dry Pasta


1.    Place all ingredients except the tomato sauce, the parsley, and the extra-virgin olive oil in a medium-sized bowl; mix thoroughly by hand until they are completely combined, and the mixture is uniformly firm.

2.    Coat your hands in olive oil, and form balls slightly bigger than a golf ball.

3.    Heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan over medium heat, then drop the meatballs into the sauce and add enough water (about 1 cup) to allow the sauce to reduce and simmer, but not so much that the sauce is totally liquid.

4.    Cook for about 10 minutes on one side, then turn the meatballs over, add some more water, and cook for another 10 minutes, using a spoon to cover the meatballs with the sauce as they simmer.

5.    Remove meatballs from heat and let them rest of 5 minutes.

6.    Cook dry pasta in hot salted boiling water for 10 minutes and finish cooking in the sauce.

7.    Serve with chopped parsley, salt and pepper, more Parmesan on top and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 

Tomato Sauce Recipe


5 minced Garlic Cloves

½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1tsp cracked Black Pepper

2 tsp Kosher Salt

½ tsp Granulated Sugar

16oz Canned Crushed Plum Tomatoes

Small Bunch of Fresh Basil, torn roughly by hand


Add Olive Oil, pepper and salt, garlic in a large pot or Dutch oven (you want something with a non-stick surface.)

Cook Garlic until golden brown, then add tomatoes.  Keep heat on high until the tomato sauce starts to boil.

Reduce to medium heat and stir every few minutes. 

Cook for 20-30 minutes.

Remove from heat and add in sugar, and hand-torn basil leaves.

Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Whether served with a side of pasta, polenta, or enjoyed on their own, this Italian meatball recipe is a classic. Just do not tell grandma that her classic family recipe might not be served for Sunday supper. As long as the meatball does not roll off the table, everyone should be happy.