Tivoli Italian Meatballs in a Rich Tomato Sauce

“Carpe Diem”

-Horace, Odes: I.11 . Commonly translated as ‘seize the day’


A few weeks ago we decided to celebrate my daughter’s and my birthdays by renting an old monastery just outside Tivoli which is managed by the Landmark Trust. The walls of a Roman villa dating from about 60 BC and believed to have belonged to the poet Horace, survive up to the middle floor of the present building, itself begun in the ninth century. It’s a massive place which sleeps twelve.

The plan was complex, involving flights arriving at different times from different countries, lengthy discussions about who was going to pick up the wine and a great deal of other detail. In the end there was a fire at Rome airport and only three of us managed to get there, arriving just as dusk was falling. Thankfully we had organised for the housekeeper to leave us some food. We fell upon the feast she’d left us, every item excellent. This is my approximation of the meatballs.

Serve them coated with a rich, unctuous tomato sauce.

They also go very well with stuffed mushrooms, and they would be good too with tagliatelle.

Alternatively serve with ciabatta which you’ve split in half lengthways and grilled. Then rub with the cut side of a fat clove of garlic and drizzle with some good olive oil; and a balsamic vinegar annointed rocket salad.


Recipe for Tivoli beef meatball in a rich tomato sauce

Serves 4


  • 500g/1 lb good quality, lean minced beef
  • 60g/2 oz/1 cup breadcrumbs (not Panko – the soft kind)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed with a little smoked salt
  • 1 small bunch (25g/1 oz) pack of flat-leaved parsley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 16 grinds Indonesian long black pepper
  • A few grinds of nutmeg
  • 60g/2 oz/½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • some seasoned flour
  • best ever tomato sauce
  • if you have any frozen individual lumps of spinach in your freezer, you can throw a couple into the tomato sauce


  1. Break up the meat
  2. Add all the other ingredients, except the oil and the seasoned flour, and mix well
  3. Roll the mix into about twelve balls, and coat with the flour
  4. Fry in the hot oil, stirring frequently, in a frying pan until golden brown – about ten minutes
  5. Simmer with the tomato sauce for twenty minutes or so, adding a slosh of red martini if it starts to look a bit dry


Below…. a Mafia-style way of making meatballs with tomato sauce

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