A Michelin-Starred Chef’s Guide to Better Italian Meatballs

Antonio Salvatore received his first Michelin star for La Table d’Antonio Salvatore in Monaco earlier this yea

August 31, 2021 9:10 am
Antonio Salvatore's meatballs
Michelin-starred meatballs.
Evan Sung

Often served on submarine sandwiches, in soups or atop spaghetti all covered with cheese (at least prior to being lost), the meatball is a versatile weapon that belongs in every home chef’s culinary arsenal.

On that front, Chef Antonio Salvatore, who received his first Michelin star for La Table d’Antonio Salvatore in Monaco earlier this year and recently opened southern Italian restaurant Casa Limone in Midtown Manhattan steps away from Rockefeller Center, is locked and loaded.

Since Salvatore’s menu at Casa Limone is designed to reflect his upbringing in Basilicata as well as the neighboring regions of Puglia, Calabria, Campania and the island of Sicily, it simply had to include a version of the meatballs he grew up eating in his grandmother’s kitchen.

“I remember every time my grandmother prepared this meatball. We’d prepare it on a Friday or Saturday — everybody together,” Salvatore tells InsideHook. “For me, it’s very traditional. It’s a very homemade dish. My grandmother is Rosa and I dedicated this dish to her. It’s a little bit warm, like family.”

Dubbed Polpettine della Nonna Rosa, Salvatore’s meatballs come with ricotta salata and tomato sauce but don’t come with pasta. Salvatore believes that they, alone, should be the stars of the plate.

“Why can’t a Michelin-starred chef cook meatballs? Why do we need to cook only caviar or Tartufo?” Salvatore says. “A Michelin star isn’t for luxury. A Michelin star is for the way you do what you do. If you do something nice with simplicity, that’s a Michelin star. Be original with what you have. I don’t have a pretense at Case Limone for the Michelin star. For me, it’s possible to do meatballs very, very nice. If it’s simple, you need to cook it very nicely. It’s gastronomy.”

Made with a three-meat blend (veal, beef and pork) and day-old bread as well as Pecorino and Parmesan cheese, Salvatore’s recipe isn’t overly complicated, but he’s still constantly on the lookout for ways to improve it.

“Every time I cook the meatballs for my kids or for me, I see more perfection. Before, I fried them. Now, I want them more light. Sometimes I do them with less meat and more bread because I don’t want them so strong. Every day I adjust something. With this recipe or this job, it’s very important to find ways to elaborate. When you cook with your heart, everything is good. Your energy is shared in the plate. This is my secret. What I do, I do because I love.”

Taste that love below.

Chef Antonio Salvatore‘s Polpettine della Nonna Rosa


1 pound of minced veal, beef and pork (mixed) 
1 slice of day-old bread (~⅓ cup bread crumbs) 
1 medium egg 
3-4 tablespoons of grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese 
Milk, as needed, to soak bread (can use dairy-free milk or water) 
Salt and pepper to taste 
A few leaves of parsley or basil 
1 teaspoon of garlic powder (optional) 
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed 
1 onion 
1 glass of white wine (or red wine if you want a stronger taste) 
4 cups of tomato puree 
1 cup of water 
1 carrot 
1 celery stalk 
Salt to taste 
A few leaves of parsley or basil

Instructions for the meatballs

  1. Cut the bread into small pieces and put in a bowl with a cup of milk. Let it absorb well, stirring occasionally. If necessary add more milk until the bread is well moist. 
  2. In a large bowl combine the minced meat, egg, grated cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, a few leaves of chopped parsley of bail and the soaked bread (after it has been well squeezed).
  3. Mix well with your hands until all the ingredients are combined and smooth. If it is too soft, add a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs until you achieve the desired consistency and are able to form a ball. 
  4. Take a small amount of the mixture and proceed to make the meatballs. You can decide the size based on your preference but remember the bigger the ball the more time it takes to cook.
  5. Arrange the meatballs on a flat plate.

Instructions for the sauce and cooking the meatballs

  1. In a large pan, add a generous amount of olive oil to cover the bottom. 
  2. Add finely chopped onion and sauté for five minutes over low heat. 
  3. Start placing the meatballs in the pan and raise the heat and cook until the meatballs are brown. Let them cook for a few minutes before rotating on all sides. 
  4. After about six or seven minutes, when the meatballs are evenly browned, pour in the white wine and let it evaporate over a high heat, turning the meatballs from time to time to flavor them.
  5. When the wine has almost completely evaporated, pour in the tomato puree, water, chopped carrot and celery, then lower the heat and cover the pan and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
  6. Turn off the heat and add a few parsley or basil leaves to flavor the sauce and season with salt. Putting the sauce in allows you to taste and not over-salt the sauce. 
  7. Serve the meatballs and sauce with your favorite pasta and ricotta cheese.


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