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Back Pocket Recipe: Chef Jonathan Benno’s Meatballs

Back Pocket Recipe: Chef Jonathan Benno’s Meatballs

How to make a crowd favorite for adults and kids.

2 min read

We all have recipes that we keep coming back to. They’re the ones we lean on for dinner parties or potlucks. The ones we make when we aren’t feeling ambitious, but still want impressive results. We make them over and over again and always get rave reviews. At OXO, we like to call them our back pocket recipes(Opens in a new window).

These recipes are too good not to share, and that’s what inspired us to start collecting them. So we’re getting back pocket recipes from our favorite chefs(Opens in a new window), influencers(Opens in a new window), cookbook authors(Opens in a new window) and OXOnians(Opens in a new window), so you too can have a back pocket recipe to rely on.

As partner of three culinary experiences within New York City’s The Evelyn Hotel(Opens in a new window), Chef Jonathan Benno knows great food as much as its ability to bring people together. The Leonelli Taberna cocktail bar and trattoria builds on rustic Italian dishes while Leonelli Focacceria e Pasticceria bakery compliments Roman- and New York-inspired treats. Benno, his namesake restaurant, also finds the sweet spot of Northern Italy and Southern France with mediterranean dishes.

These delicious options are enough to make our mouths water, which is why we’re excited for him to share his Leonelli’s meatballs in marinara recipe.

Chef Benno says he likes to keep it in his back pocket because kids and grown-ups love meatballs. They are super easy to make and they are a huge crowd pleaser.

OXO Benno

Meatballs and Marinara Sauce


Take the ricotta out and put it into a fine mesh strainer. Cover it with plastic wrap and place a pound of butter, or some kind of weight, on the covered ricotta. This will help drain all the extra liquid from the ricotta.
Place the ground beef, veal and pork in a large mixing bowl.
Now, you can add the ground Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano, drained ricotta, salt, Calabrian chili, ground pepper, dried basil, oregano and eggs. Mix well with your hands until all is incorporated. Hold in the refrigerator and start making your Marinara sauce.
Get a heavy bottomed pot and turn on flame to low. Open the tomatoes and put them through a food mill. Finely dice the onions. The pot should be hot now. So, add the olive oil and onions and a pinch of salt.
Stir until the onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Do not brown the onions.
Now, you can add the crushed garlic and bay leaf. Gently stir for a minute or two, until the garlic gets cooked out. Add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar.
Simmer for 45 minutes. When the sauce is almost finished, add the salt and pepper. Now, have a taste. Feel free to add more salt, pepper and/or Calabrian Chili.
While the marinara sauce is cooking, take the meatball mixture out of the refrigerator. Using an OXO Cookie Scoop, size each scoop to 3 ½ inches in diameter.
After you scoop, make sure to roll out the meatballs in the palms of your hands to decrease the number of cracks.
Once you have scooped all the meatballs, get a heavy bottomed pan (Read: cast iron) and heat on a medium-high flame.
When it is hot, gently place the meatballs in the pan and brown on all sides. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan as that will steam the meatballs, instead of browning them. As soon as they are all browned, off-place the meatballs in the simmering marinara sauce.
Add the chicken stock and water in with the meatballs. Continue to simmer for another hour, gently stirring every 20 minutes.
Serve immediately. Or cool down, then refrigerate for up to one week.

At Leonelli, they finish the meatballs with ground Parmigiano and chopped parsley. If there is extra sauce, freeze it and use for another time. It will have the nice meaty flavor. 

OXO Benno

One more thing you’ll find in Leonelli kitchens: POP Containers(Opens in a new window).

Chef Benno loves the POP Containers for his spices. Since they're clear, it makes it easier to order more and they stack perfectly.


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