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Mama Rita’s Meatballs

My mother’s name is Rita. Her mother’s name was Rita. Both are 100% Italian, in case you didn’t guess. Both of them are known for their sweet, welcoming smile and their genuine generosity, especially around the table. My Nanny loved more than anything to feed her grandchildren to bursting. When we came over for dinner, she hardly ever sat down, and she always asked you about ten times if you were sure you didn’t want more. My Mom is an equally awesome hostess. My house wasn’t the biggest or the fanciest among my group of friends, but they liked to hang out there. My mom treated all of my friends like her own kids, always fed us something delicious, and was more than willing to join in when we played card or board games. And sometimes she just giggled with us. Some of my friends (including my husband) still to this day call her Mama Rita.

For the record, I have never had a better meatball than one consumed at one of the Ritas’ tables. Even my own always seem to be lacking (just a little bit). However, here is the recipe they passed on to me – one that was present at many family dinners and gatherings. They taught me that the best meatball is fried and has plenty of garlic. There is nothing better than snitching a meatball right before they go into the sauce. My only addition (inspired by the genius of Mark Sisson) is frying them in bacon fat.

My Nanny passed away this past August. This recipe post is in her memory. So in her words, famous among our family, “Use it well.”

Typically we eat meatballs with pasta and a big salad.

Mama Rita’s Meatballs


Kim @ onceamonthmeals.com


Garlic is a key ingredient for amazing meatballs.

Frying is the only way to cook meatballs in my opinion.


In a large mixing bowl combine raw ground beef, garlic, onion, breadcrumbs, eggs, red pepper, salt, pepper, parsley, and Parmesan. You may need to use your hands to get it thoroughly combined. In a large skillet, heat bacon grease (or olive oil) over medium heat. Meanwhile, roll meat mixture into balls about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. When grease is hot, cook the meatballs about 5-7 minutes on each side. Check one to see if meatballs are done on the inside. Meatballs should be browned and crisp on all sides and no longer pink inside. If they are browed but not cooked inside, lower heat and cover. Cook for 5 more minutes and check another meatball. Place meatballs in finished marinara sauce. If desired, continue cooking meatballs in sauce on low for more flavor. Serve over pasta, on your favorite sub rolls, with a big salad, or just by themselves! And they make great party food.

Freezing Directions:

Place meatballs and sauce in freezer bags, label, and store. To serve: Thaw and reheat sauce and meatballs in a large pot or on low in the crock pot. The meatballs will impart a lovely flavor to your sauce as it warms up.

Servings: 40 meatballs (approximately)


**conversion chart image provided by Erik Spiekermann

14 Responses to “Mama Rita’s Meatballs”

  1. rita says:

    Well done and well said. Nanny would be proud of you. The only complaint that I have is that you and Nikki both call “gravy” sauce. I thought you girls would carry that on too! Love you sweetie!

  2. Christi says:

    These were the best meatballs that I’ve ever made. My family ate them all (one freezer portion, about half) before I could even cook the pasta! Thank you for sharing your family recipe! :)

  3. Randi says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe! It was the best meatball dish I have ever eaten and my husband LOVED it as well.

  4. Kirstin Reeder says:

    My husband is wondering what the texture is like. Is it like meatloaf?

  5. Barb says:

    Thank you soo much for this recipe! These are the most delicious meatballs I ever made. I was going to freeze in two batches but after we all sampled “one” that is not going to happen! I will definetly make these again and again!

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  10. Darci says:

    Can you freeze these meatballs in the raw form and then fry them when you’re ready to eat them?

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