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raos meatballs in marinara in a black cast iron frying pan
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4.63 from 8 votes

Rao’s meatballs in marinara sauce

Rao's meatballs are famous for a reason. Big, tender, and floating in the best marinara sauce you've ever tasted.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 20 mins
Course: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4
Calories: 1530kcal
Author: romain | glebekitchen


The marinara

  • 2 28 oz cans San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 oz pork fat back - coarsely chopped (can substitute pancetta)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic - finely minced
  • salt to taste - about a tsp, depending on how salty your tomatoes are

The meatballs

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 lb ground veal
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese - a microplane works well here
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp Italian parsley finely chopped
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

The rest

  • 1 1/2-2 cups vegetable oil to fry
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • additional pecorino romano to serve


The marinara

  • Hand crush the tomatoes, removing the tough piece of core in each tomato (the stem end). You could just put them through a food mill but using your hands is fun.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a 5-6 quart dutch oven or pot of similar size.
  • Add the fat back or pancetta and cook until the fat is rendered. If you use fat back, remove the rinds.
  • Add the onions, regulating the heat so they turn translucent but do not brown. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
  • Pour in the crushed tomatoes, add the salt and simmer, loosely covered, for about an hour.

The meatballs

  • While the marinara simmers prepare the meatballs.
  • Break up the pork, veal and beef in a large bowl to start mixing them together (it doesn't have to be perfect - just get it started). Add all the remaining ingredients except the water. Mix using your hands to roughly combine. Add the first cup of water and mix. Continue to add the water until you get the mixture to be fairly moist. You are going for a meatball that holds together but isn't at all dry. Most of the time it takes the full two cups or very close to it.
  • Form the meat mixture into 8 large meatballs about 2 1/2 - 3 inches in diameter.
  • Place the meatballs in the fridge for around 30 minutes to set up.
  • Shallow fry the meatballs in a non stick skillet until golden brown. You will be cursing me if you don't use non-stick. I find a 10 inch diameter pot with 1 1/2 cups of oil gets you to the point where half the meatball is submerged when cooking 4 at a time. Cook until golden then nudge them over with a slotted spoon to cook the other side.
  • Drain on paper towel and then add them to the marinara. 8 meatballs will just fit in a single layer in a 5-6 quart dutch oven.

Making them Rao's meatballs

  • Simmer about one hour, loosely covered. Your marinara will have simmered two hours in total.
  • To serve, cook spaghetti per the instructions on the package. Drain and toss with a bit of the marinara. Serve with grated pecorino romano as a first course.
  • Serve the meatballs with the marinara sauce, sprinkled with more pecorino romana as a second course. One giant meatball alone on a plate with a puddle of marinara sauce is a bit of an unorthodox presentation but live a little.
  • Bask in the adulation of your guests...


Serving: 4servings | Calories: 1530kcal | Carbohydrates: 141g | Protein: 82g | Fat: 69g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Cholesterol: 264mg | Sodium: 2440mg | Potassium: 1803mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 930IU | Vitamin C: 23.7mg | Calcium: 539mg | Iron: 11.3mg