My Grandma’s 1-Ingredient Upgrade for the Most Flavorful Italian Meatballs (It’s Already in Your Pantry!)

published Apr 10, 2024
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spaghetti and meatballs in bowl garnished
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

My grandma Adele left my family with a handful of her legendary Italian recipes, most notably her lasagna (and her unconventional golden rule that makes it so so good). My dad makes a batch of her lasagna every Christmas — but that’s not all. On the side we always have a big pot of her signature meatballs and sauce.

Now before I get into her meatballs and what defines them, I feel like meatballs are one of those foods everyone claims to do the best. People have all kinds of tricks for them: a combination of pork and beef! Let the mixture mingle in the fridge for better flavor! Add a little ricotta for extra fat! Stir in a packet of onion soup mix! (We’re no strangers to Lipton at The Kitchn — it’s the secret to flavoring the best chicken thighs of your life.) This is just a handful of the many many tips people hold close with their meatballs. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

Turns out, my grandma Adele’s rule is a little more surprising. If you read about her lasagna trick, you’re already familiar with the fact that she was a big fan of warm spices in her Italian cooking. When it came to her meatballs, she swore by adding some ground nutmeg to the meat mixture. Nutmeg doesn’t seem like the typical meatball addition, but after doing some research, this isn’t such a curveball. Some people on the internet claim it’s actually key for authenticity. You’d never guess it’s there, and you don’t need a lot. (You also don’t need to grate it fresh, according to Grandma Adele; she used the ground kind.) She followed the ratio of ½ teaspoon per pound of meat. It adds a depth of flavor that makes your meatballs truly memorable. 

So find your favorite meatball recipe (sorry, that’s a secret of grandma Adele’s my family’s not ready to give up but these meatballs with spaghetti are a great place to start), and be sure to add some nutmeg into the meat mixture. I guarantee you won’t regret it.