Man in the Kitchen: Meatball Raised and Tested

Man in the Kitchen: Meatball Raised and Tested

raised on homemade meatballs
Ken Carlton and his boys, raised on his favorite recipes.

I wrote a tell-all memoir for an Italian chef in New York who claimed, as his greatest influence, his mother’s recipe for meatballs. In fact, read enough chef memoirs and you’ll learn that EVERY chef worth his salt attributes his success to his mother’s meatballs. That includes me and I’m not even Italian.

grinding meat for meatballs
Photo © Audrey Shupia / 123RF

I was raised in the age of raw chuck. “Chopped meat,” my mom called it, and whenever she and my dad were going out in that ditzy Madmen era formerly known as the late ‘60s, she prepared home-made meatballs – ground in a hand-cranked grinder that attached to our green-flecked, formica kitchen counter top. Dipping my hands into the Pyrex mixing bowl for a sample of that well-seasoned, egg-inflected mix? Without a doubt, that is where my love of cooking (and steak tartare!) was born.

The ballast, heart and soul of raising my precious boys as a formerly single dad involved cooking for them every night of the week. No matter if work held me up, the subway was an hour late, or snow was filling my desperately hole-y work boots. I still squished into our grocery store, and especially on the late nights, grabbed the easiest ingredients I could to whip up something that resembled dinner.

they grew up eating homemade meatballs
Ken with his 2 sons.

Two things have changed since my boys were little. One, they’ve each topped 6-feet. And second, when they see that bowl of chopped meat on the counter, they both volunteer to roll up their sleeves and help Dad make dinner.

Spaghetti and meatballs hits all the right notes for feeding your children and your soul, whether you’re going it alone or simply exhausted at the end of an impossibly long day. It takes 15 minutes start to finish, the house smells great, and whomever you are serving will drop the technology and tuck into a meal that rivals the best Italian in your neighborhood. Get that garlic sautéeing and who knows? You might even have a child or two poking their fingers in the bowl and helping you roll those balls.

Homemade meatballs
Photo © Ken Carlton

Foolproof Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe


  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of Dijon mustard (moutarde)
  • a couple of cloves of garlic, a tbsp. of extra virgin
  • a few pinches of Italian breadcrumbs
  • a shake of Worcestershire or soy sauce
  • Lawry’s, Crazy Jane or any fun salt and black pepper
  • 14-ounce can of store-bought plain tomato sauce


Throw the meat in a decent-sized bowl.

Crack the egg and portion out maybe 1 tsp of egg yolk and dump on top.

Add in the salt, Worcestershire and moutarde.

Mix and knead with your hands until it starts to feel firm. Add the breadcrumbs and this will help firm it up (and give it crunch when cooked).

Heat oil and garlic to medium high in a 10-12” stick-free frying pan.

Roll and add meatballs to pan, one tasty plop at a time. Brown for several minutes per side, shaking them in the pan like a pro.

Once browned, add the sauce, cover and simmer, shaking slightly every so often. Done in 15 minutes, max.

If sauce seems too little, add another can, or better yet, 3 or 4 broth ice cubes you’ve frozen and saved from last week’s soup!

Pluck your meatballs from the pan and serve in a pretty dish. Dump the sauce on a pound of spaghetti or any fun-shaped pasta. Serve with salad, red wine for the chef, and discuss anything but homework and grades with children. Finish with Oreos or gelato.

Get Ken Carlton's Book on!

Food for Marriage: A Novel (English Edition)

Ken Carlton is founder and editor-in-chief of Beyondish, a food review and storytelling website. He is the author or ghostwriter of eight books, including the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a dating expert on OPRAH. He still muses about food, relationships and parenting at his website, Food for Marriage. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago. You can follow him on Instagram @foodformarriage


  1. As a Chinese kid growing up in an Italian neighborhood, Tommy Amorinos’ moms all day cook-a-rama making home-style meals for her family, drove my young olfactory senses wild. I spent years with my Chinese only grandma trying to duplicate those wonderful tomato flavors. We would have figured it out quicker if Grandma did not insist it was ketchup that would make it taste great. Today my nieces and nephews look forward to our reunions so Oncle can serve up all you can eat Polpette di Spaghetti styled after those mouth watering boyhood smells. It’s a recipe that has been passed on to the next gen foodies and prompts us all to remember to get together sooner than later. And yeah, I tell them to finish the sauce with a little ketchup and a kiss!


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