Photos: Alex Van Buren
The guardian of the gate when visitors arrive at the reception desk of the New York City Yahoo offices is a blonde woman named Marian Bonavita. The self-proclaimed “den mother” of her fellow employees—she always asks about your day, and always has time for a good story—is the proud grandma of three kids. Marian was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey (and has got the accent to prove it) but her family hails from Italy—and a long line of talented cooks.
It turns out, in fact, that the city’s best receptionist once ran a company called “Marian’s Meatballs.” We were curious about any meatball so good it had a company named after it, so we tested her recipe. These are fantastic: plush with pork, beef, and lamb, and good old white bread soaked in milk. Be sure to use fresh herbs, don’t skimp on garlic, and don’t overpack the meatballs; you want them plump and tender, not dense. You can use your own favorite sauce or the one Marian likes to make, below.
The meatballs trace back four generations to her great-great-grandmother, who was born in Calabria, Italy, and brought them stateside. Nowadays, Marian teaches her own 7-year-old granddaughter how to make them. And no wonder: It’s a recipe to make a grandkid proud.
We like to put these meatballs in a sub with smoked mozzarella, fresh basil, tomato sauce, and crisp pancetta slices.
Marian’s Meatball Recipe
By Marian Bonavita
Makes 35-45 2” meatballs
Note: You can fry the meatballs or bake them. To test these, we baked them, but to fry, heat 1/2 an inch of vegetable oil in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, and cook until light-brown on each side.
18 slices of store-bought white bread
2 cups milk
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground lamb
4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Tomato Sauce (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak bread in milk for 5 minutes. Remove from milk, and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible.
In a large bowl, combine meat, garlic, eggs, salt, pepper, bread, cheese, and parsley. Mix with hands; do not over-mix. Make loose meatballs a little bit bigger than a plum.
Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper for about 40 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool.
Allow to cool, and add to sauce to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve over pasta or in a sandwich.
1 28-oz can of Italian plum tomatoes with basil leaf
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly ground pepper
Pour whole tomatoes into large bowl and crush by hand or using a potato masher. Set aside.
Place heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is hot, add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
Add tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper, to taste. Cook over medium heat until tomatoes are very soft. Allow to cool slightly, and use an immersion blender to blend until sauce is smooth. Season to taste.
Looking for more meaty recipes?
What’s your go-to meatball recipe and where did you find it?