Food & Drink

How a late mother’s meatball recipe resonated with readers

Use a cast-iron skillet to sear the meatballs. They finish cooking in tomato sauce.
Use a cast-iron skillet to sear the meatballs. They finish cooking in tomato sauce. Victoria Pesce Elliott

When her father called because her mother couldn’t remember the recipe for meatballs she had been making her whole life, Victoria Pesce Elliott knew something was wrong.

“Mom is sick,” Pesce Elliott wrote. “This is Dad’s way of telling me he is scared. That he has known for a long time but could not say. She has the same thing that took Grandma,” Pesce Elliott wrote.

That November 2015 article — and the meatball recipe she shared with Miami Herald readers to immortalize her late mother, Eleanor — was selected a finalist for Best Food Essay by the Association of Food Journalists. Winners will be announced at the annual awards ceremony in Seattle on Sept. 21.

Pesce Elliott, a freelance restaurant critic for the Miami Herald since 2000, sits on the Restaurant Review Committee of the James Beard Foundation, which administers the annual awards for chefs and restaurants around the country. She shared her story a month after Eleanor Pesce died in September 2015.

Eleanor Pesce ran a mini real estate empire, developing property from Hialeah to Hollywood, including the site of the original Sedano’s supermarket on East 41st Street in Hialeah. But on the same dining room table where she conducted her business dealings, she set forth banquets for her family, including the meatballs that were part of her legacy. Pesce Elliott shared it with the Herald’s readers.

“There will be no more meatballs. Not hers, anyway,” Pesce Elliott wrote. “No matter how many times I make them, they cannot be as good as hers.”

Read Pesce Elliott’s full story at

Mom’s Meatballs

Recipe by Eleanor Pesce

1 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground veal

1/2 pound ground pork

5 cloves minced garlic

1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/4 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley (about 1/4 cup chopped)

2 large eggs

1/2 loaf (about 1 cup) day-old Italian bread

3/4 cup milk for soaking bread

1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbsSalt and pepper

Bowl of clean water for dipping hands while forming meatballs

Enough olive oil for frying (at least 1 cup)

If you have a butcher who will grind the meat for you, have him combine the beef, veal and pork in the grinder. If not, mix the meats together in a large bowl. Add the garlic, cheese and parsley. Beat the eggs and add them to the mix. Gently mix with your hands. Break the bread into bite-size pieces and let soak in the milk until soft. Add the softened bread and milk to the mix. Add breadcrumbs. Salt and pepper aggressively. With an ice cream scooper or a large spoon dunked in water, form meatballs dipping hands into the water each time so the meat is smooth and wet as you roll it.

Heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a large skillet, preferably a cast iron one. Fry one marble-size meatball to taste for seasoning. Add more cheese, salt or pepper as needed. Fry meatballs four or five at a time. Do not crowd the pan. Turn them gently so that all sides brown to a nice golden color. They will still be pink in the center. Do not overcook them. They will continue to cook in tomato sauce. Let them drain on layers of paper towels until they are ready to go for a swim in sauce.

Yield: About 18-24 meatballs