Meatballs with Tomatoes and Peas

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    (makes about 20 meatballs)

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These meatballs go a long way back. I remember my grandmother Nonna Mary would make them and serve them with her version of rice pilaf, which she prepared in the oven. They were also a staple in my parents’ house, and one of my favorite items that my mother would pack in a Thermos for my lunch at school. They continue to be a staple in our current household, where we make them at least once a month. They keep perfectly when frozen, so I usually make a large batch. To reheat them, place them in saucepan with a couple tablespoons of water over medium-low heat. I’ve also discovered that they can be made into a great pasta sauce. When I reheat them, I break them up into small bits and add a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. I like them with the same pasta I would use for the Bolognese meat sauce, chunky shapes like rigatoni or shells, or egg pasta such as tagliatelle or pappardelle. Add about ¼ cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano when you toss the pasta.

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Time from start to finish: 1 hour


  • 1 slice plain white bread
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • ½ small yellow onion
  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
  • pounds fresh peas in the pod, or 8 ounces frozen peas


  1. Cut away the crust from the slice of bread. Put it in a small bowl and pour the milk over it.
  2. Peel and finely chop the onion. Put it in a large bowl with the ground meat, egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and nutmeg. Mash the bread and milk to a pulp with your fingers and add it to the bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grindings from the pepper mill. Thoroughly mix everything together with your hands.
  3. Put the bread crumbs in a small, shallow bowl. Form the meat mixture into small compact meatballs, about 1½ inches in diameter, and roll each meatball in the bread crumbs until coated on all sides.
  4. Put enough oil in a 10-inch skillet to come ¼ inch up the sides and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully add about half of the meatballs. Lightly brown them on all sides; remove from the skillet and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.
  5. Pour off most of the oil from the pan, leaving just enough to coat the bottom. Return the pan to medium heat and add the tomatoes, breaking them into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Lightly season the tomatoes with salt, then return all of the meatballs to the pan. Cover the pan, with the lid slightly askew, and adjust the heat so that the tomatoes simmer.
  6. If using fresh peas, shell them. Add the fresh peas after the meatballs have cooked for 20 minutes and continue cooking for 20 more minutes, or add the frozen peas after the meatballs have cooked for 30 minutes and continue cooking for 10 more minutes. If all the liquid in the pan evaporates before the meatballs are ready, begin adding ½ cup water at a time until they are done. Serve hot, with good crusty bread or Nonna Mary’s Rice.