I Tried Giada De Laurentiis’ “Lighter than Air” Italian Meatballs, and They’ve Set a New Standard

Italian meatballs in skillet.
Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller
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When I was growing up, spaghetti and meatballs was a meal that regularly appeared in my family’s rotation. And while there are countless ways to prepare this tried-and-tested dish, as long as you stay true to the Italian roots, not much can go wrong when whipping up a batch of meatballs for dinner.

Recently, after discovering Giada De Laurentiis’ meatball salad recipe, I realized that it had been quite some time since I had enjoyed this meaty Italian dish. After my successful experience baking and devouring Giada’s lemon baked ziti, my arm required minimal twisting to give her meatball salad a try. While calling upon my years of childhood memories and countless meatball dinners, I was ready to tackle this tasty-looking Italian classic (with a twist). 

Get the recipe: Meatball Salad

Meatballs on wax paper before cooking.
Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

How to Make Giada’s Italian Meatballs

This is a really easy recipe that pairs delicious Italian meatballs with an arugula salad for a lighter alternative to the classic spaghetti and meatballs combo. Starting with the meatballs, combine freshly grated Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs with room-temperature milk and allow the breadcrumbs to absorb the liquid. Add egg and ricotta cheese and mix well until completely combined. Add ground pork, sweet Italian sausage (casings removed) and salt, then use clean hands to mix gently until well-combined.

Heat a medium straight-sided skillet over medium heat and add a healthy amount of olive oil to cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Roll your meatball mixture into heaping tablespoon-sized balls and place each inside the skillet once the oil is hot. Feel free to fill the skillet up with as many meatballs as will fit, making sure not to overcrowd. Heat until each side is golden-brown, rotating as needed, for about 8 to 10 minutes.

When ready, move the meatballs to a plate and pour out the excess oil remaining in the skillet. Add marinara sauce (which Giada has an excellent recipe for) and water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Toss the meatballs back into the skillet and cover each with spoonfuls of sauce. Allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes before removing from the heat.

For the salad, toss fresh arugula, Parmesan shavings, olive oil, and lemon juice together in a medium bowl. Add any preferred seasonings, then place a bed of arugula salad into a bowl for serving. Spoon in a few meatballs, top with more Parmesan shavings, and enjoy!

Italian meatballs in a bowl with side of arugula.
Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

My Honest Opinion of Giada’s Italian Meatballs

I had a feeling going into this that I would have nothing bad to say about Giada’s meatball recipe, and my notion was correct. After eating two servings in one night, I can honestly say that I absolutely loved it. Right off the bat I was a fan of the minimal ingredients required, which made the cooking process pretty much a breeze. And although I decided to add in some chopped basil for a little extra flavor, I can’t say that I would do much differently next time I make this recipe. The arugula salad was a refreshing alternative to spaghetti, and the addition of lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan made the salad a standout feature in its own right.

I’ll definitely be keeping Giada’s take on Italian meatballs in my meal rotation. I would rate Giada’s recipe a 10/10 any day of the week — and now that I think about it, I’m going to go ahead and heat up some leftovers for lunch.

Bite taken out of Italian meatballs.
Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

3 Tips for Making Giada’s Italian Meatballs

  1. Add some basil: Although this recipe does not call for it, I opted to roll each meatball in some chopped basil before tossing them in the skillet. Giada mentions in a video with Food Network that not much seasoning is needed, as the sausage already has so much inside of it. While Giada is correct, I found that the addition of basil gave an extra pop of color and flavor to the recipe.

  2. Make it heartier: If you’re interested in a more filling version of this Italian classic, substitute the arugula salad with spaghetti. Even though these meatballs are delicious enough on their own with marinara, a good old-fashioned spaghetti and meatball dinner is always a win.

  3. Season as you go: If you follow Giada’s instructions to a T, there is no doubt that you will end up with some of the best meatballs you have ever tasted. However, we all prefer our food to be seasoned differently, so make sure to taste test at different points as you cook. Feel free to add in whichever seasonings your heart desires until you like what you taste. The best part about learning a new recipe is taking liberties and making it your own.

Get the recipe: Meatball Salad

This article originally published on The Kitchn. See it there: I Tried Giada De Laurentiis’ “Lighter than Air” Italian Meatballs, and Every Bite Is Magical