Amanda’s Cheater Version of A16’s Famous Meatballs
A16, my favorite neighborhood Italian spot in San Francisco, never goes out of style. After 16 years, it is still thriving-even through COVID! Although people flock to the restaurant for their incredible pizzas and James Beard Award-winning Southern Italian wine list, regulars know that their “Monday Night Meatballs” are unbeatable. Freshly ground pork shoulder, beef chuck, prosciutto, and pork fat are mixed with fresh ricotta and a few other humble ingredients before being braised in the simplest mixture of tomatoes and olive oil, resulting in life-changing, fluffy little bites of perfection. This recipe is by far and away my most requested, and after making it once you’ll understand why. But every time I make them, they are gone in 5 minutes, so I’ve tripled the recipe here so I get messy once but can have lots of extras. (They freeze really well!) If you do make this enormous amount simply bake off all of the meatballs, then before freezing any of them, allow them to cool to room temperature before storing them in airtight containers in the freezer. When ready to eat them, defrost them at room temperature and then proceed to bake them in the tomato sauce as directed.Note: This recipe is barely adapted from the original which is a big no-no in publishing, but because I worked on the A16 cookbook and love and support the entire A16 crew, I think they’re ok with me circulating this version. (Shelley Lindgren and Kate Leahy, forgive me!) Plus, their original version is already all over the internet. Hahaha. AND, nothing replaces the real ones in the restaurant or in their cookbook so promise me you’ll go and try them soon.Special Equipment: You will probably need very large mixing bowls if you make this triple batch.Serves: Many hungry people! It will make anywhere between 90 small meatballs (golf ball-sized) or 40 humongous ones if you’re crazy.
- 2 lbs. ground pork
- 2 lbs. ground beef preferably at least 20% fat
- 18 oz. day-old country bread or sliced white bread not sourdough, torn into chunks and ground in a food processor
- 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves coarsely chopped (about 2 cups when chopped)
- 3 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 ½ Tbsp. fennel seeds
- 1 Tbsp. dried chile flakes
- 2 cups fresh ricotta drained if necessary
- 9 eggs lightly beaten
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 28- oz.can diced San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 28- oz. can crushed tomatoes
- Extra virgin olive oil for finishing
- 1 bunch fresh basil leaves
- Block of Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
- Preheat the oven or grill to 400 degrees F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, or coat them with olive oil.
- In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, bread, parsley, 2 Tbsp. of salt, oregano, fennel, and chile flakes. Mix with your hands just until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Set aside.
- In a separate (very large) bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, and milk just enough to break up any large curds of ricotta. Add the ricotta mixture to the ground meat mixture and mix lightly with your hands just until incorporated. The mixture should feel wet and tacky. (It will be looser and tackier than you’d expect a meatball to be.) Pinch off a small piece of the mixture, flatten it into a disk, and cook it in a small saute pan. Taste it and adjust the seasoning of the mixture with salt if needed.
- Form the mixture into 1 1/2 -inch balls each weighing about 2 ounces—or make humongous ones like I like to make just because—and place on the prepared baking sheets a few inches apart. You will have anywhere between 40 and 90 meatballs, depending on how insane you are.
- Place two baking sheets in the oven or on the grill and bake, rotating the sheets once from front to back, for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the meatballs are browned and barely cooked through. (You can cut one open to check!) Remove from the oven. Bake any other batches of meatballs if necessary, then lower the oven temp to 300 degrees F.
- Place the diced and crushed tomatoes in a bowl and add the remaining tablespoon of salt, along with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Stir.
- Pack the meatballs into 1 large roasting pan or 2 smaller roasting pans. (It’s okay if they’re layered in there.) Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and braise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meatballs are tender and have absorbed some of the tomato sauce.
- Pull the pans out of the oven or off of the grill and uncover. Distribute the basil leaves throughout the sauce.
- For each serving, ladle meatballs with some of the sauce into a warmed bowl. Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top, drizzle with olive oil to finish, and serve immediately.
- Reminder: If you’d like to save some of the meatballs for another time, you can bake them off, allow them to cool, and then freeze them in an airtight container. When ready to use, allow them to come to room temperature for an hour, then add the tomato sauce and braise them.
Recipe (very lightly) adapted from A16 Food + Wine, by Nate Appleman + Shelley Lindgren with Kate Leahy (and recipe testing by moi).
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!