Hey, Pizza Joints, Why You Gotta Bust My Meatballs?

Home Slice

Defiling pizza on a regular basis.

An appetizer of "polpette Napoletane" from NYC's Motorino. [Photo: Robyn Lee]

I love a good Italian meatball or three. When they're done right, they're juicy and tender. A little springy. Maybe a little seared and thus chewy in places. I will eat them as an appetizer, on a hero, or over pasta. I don't discriminate.

Except on pizza. I almost never eat meatballs on a pizza. The thing about meatballs on pizza is that a meatball pizza is almost never a meatBALL pizza. I mean, look at this thing:


That is NOT BALLS.

I actually have two separate issues with meatballs on pizza. One is that they're often sliced. Have we covered that already? The fun of a meatball is that it's, you know, A BALL. Once you slice it, it becomes SLICED MEAT TOPPING. And SLICED MEAT TOPPING sounds like something on the menu of a second-rate pizza chain.

Issue No. 2 is that unless you have a place really taking care, the meatballs dry out. Like at Arturo's, where the SLICED MEAT TOPPING photo above comes from.

Best Pizza meatball pie. [Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Some of my favorite pizzerias in NYC—Motorino and Best Pizza (above)—get the juiciness and texture right, but not the BALL part.

Heck, I had never even seen a pizzeria do meatball pizza until I moved to NYC and read the menu at at Arturo's. I flipped. GENIUS! But you know how that went (we've discussed this, right?). The only place I've been to that approaches meatball pizza in the right way is Lil' Frankie's. Here is what they do:

Lil' Frankie's pizza polpettine. [Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Maybe you can see why I took a page from their book in making my homemade meatball pizza last week. See, I need to redeem myself for the SpaghettiOs and Meatball pizza from a couple months back.

The Right Meatball Recipe

Frankies Spuntino meatballs include pine nuts and raisins. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

I could have used any ol' 'ball recipe, but I wanted one with some heft. Some of my favorites in NYC are those at Frankies Spuntino. There are haters out there who aren't down with the pine nuts and raisins mixed in—or with the fact that they're beef-only. Those people can go eat 'balls elsewhere.


Use a leveled teaspoon measure to ensure that one ball is not larger than another. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

I mixed up a batch of 'ball meat according to this Frankies meatball recipe here on SE. After some experimentin' with sizes, I found that a 1 teaspoon measure works best. It's small enough to create a bite-size ball but large enough to fit at least one pine nut and one raisin in the meat wad—be sure to scoop up at least one of each.

Pro tip: Keep a handful of extra raisins and pine nuts at the ready. If your meat mixture starts running low on them, you can add them in by hand.


The Frankies recipe has you bake the meatballs first. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

The perfect size for a pizza meatball is that of a small grape (above). The original Frankies recipe calls for a bake time of 25 to 30 minutes—for handball-size meatballs. Because these are grape-size, I baked them for 15 minutes. They take a 30-minute swim in simmering tomato sauce afterward.

I was short on time, so for this experiment, I used my favorite jarred sauce, Rao's (the Tomato Basil variety). In the future, I'm thinking of dipping my 'balls in Marcella Hazan's classic onion-butter tomato sauce.


For the pie itself, I put down the cheese first, then layered the simmered Rao's tomato sauce on. I found things worked best when I placed the meatballs on halfway through cooking. That way, they didn't melt completely into the pizza but still became integrated enough that the cheese held them firmly in place.

The green stuff is a little post-bake parsley. I also hit the pie with freshly grated Parmesan at the table.


[Photo: Adam Kuban]

You know what else is nice? Rub your 'balls with just a little bit of warm tomato sauce right after your pizza comes out of the oven. If you cover them with sauce beforehand, it simply melts into the pie.


[Photo: Adam Kuban]

And when you slice your pie, try to avoid slicing too many meatballs. It is the most unkindest cut of all.