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Rao's Meatballs with Marinara Sauce

Rao’s Meatballs
Rao's famous meatballs paired with a dish of cabbage, hot and sweet Italian sausage in San Marzano tomato sauce, over fusili pasta.Courtesy of Rao’s Restaurant


Rao’s Marinara Sauce
  • 4 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes with basil, preferably from San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Coarse salt
  • 12 leaves fresh basil, torn (optional)
  • 1 pinch dried oregano
  • Freshly ground pepper
Rao’s Meatballs
  • pounds ground beef
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 pound ground veal
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups vegetable oil for frying (optional)

Chef notes

If you're looking for a hot and cozy fall recipe, look no further than Rao's. Known for its exclusivity and esteemed reputation, New York City's Rao's restaurant has been serving up authentic Italian food since 1896.

Here, Dino Gatto, the Executive Chef of New York City's Rao's Restaurant, shares his tips for how to make the juiciest meatballs:

For mouthwatering meatballs it's important to only use the freshest and best quality products.

In this recipe, you will find that we add the water, cheese and breadcrumbs in layers, which allows the breadcrumbs to be separate from the water. If you add the water, then breadcrumbs ... by the time you get started to mix, the water will be absorbed into the bread and will be hard to mix and dry, which also makes it hard to roll.

The longer the meatballs simmer in the sauce, the softer they will be inside and also have the crust from them being fried.

Note: If possible, ask your butcher to ground the beef, pork and veal together. The pork can be omitted for either beef or veal in same amount of a 1/4 pound.


For Rao's Marinara Sauce:

Remove tomatoes from cans and place in a large bowl, reserving juices. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes. Remove and discard the hard core from stem end and any skin and tough membrane. Set aside.

Place the oil in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and the reserved juices. Season with salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.

Stir in basil, if using, oregano, and season with pepper. Continue cooking 1 minute more. Remove from heat and serve.

For Rao's Meatballs:

In a large bowl, combine the three ground meats. Mince clove garlic and add to meat mixture, spreading the meat in bowl as if you're making a well. Then add the parsley, salt, pepper and eggs followed by the water. Begin to sprinkle the cheese on top of the water as if covering it, and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the cheese.

After all ingredients are added, mix from the outside of the bowl towards the middle, rotating the bowl as you mix until well combined. When finished, shape mixture into the desired size that you prefer.

The meatballs can then be baked or fried.

Baking: Place the meatballs on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes. Take off of pan and add into marinara sauce and simmer over low heat.

Frying: In a medium sauté pan, add the oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the meatballs into the pan and cook till golden brown on both sides for approximately 6 to 7 minutes each side. Take out of pan and add into marinara sauce and simmer over low heat.

When finished, plate and top with more marinara sauce. Serve.