Skip to main content

Three Italian Side Dish Recipes: Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore & Eggplant Parmesan

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

What to do with so much tomato sauce?

How can you add extra pizzaz to that giant pot of homemade tomato sauce? Meatballs or chicken are delicious options. After serving spaghetti and meatballs to fifteen hungry guests (see Italian Spaghetti Sauce Made with Garden Fresh Tomatoes), I was able to reserve several cups of sauce for eggplant parmesan, which I happily assembled the following evening. But first, how to make the meatballs...

More Comforting Dishes:


  • For moist meatballs, the addition of water is crucial.
  • If the ground beef you purchase is already fatty you may not need to add oil. In Peru, where beef is ground without the addition of fat, oil is very important for tenderness and flavor.
  • Use a scoop to form perfect meatballs that will cook evenly.
  • Meatballs will be even more flavorful if the seasoned meat rests in the refrigerator for a few hours before use.
  • To decrease fat content of your dish, you can opt to bake meatballs in the oven before dropping them into the sauce. See Amazon capsule at right for more information.
  • If you're short on time, drop raw meatballs directly into the sauce. Setting aside time to brown the meatballs, though, enriches flavor.
  • A cast iron skillet is best for browning meatballs as they won't easily stick or burn.
  • Leftover meatballs are delicious eaten as a sandwich, on french or ciabatta rolls.


How to make meatballs

These meatballs are tender, moist and bursting with flavor! While living in North America I used to combine ground beef with bulk Italian sausage but, since the latter ingredient isn’t available in my neck of the woods, I spike ground beef with italian herbs and spices. Alternatively, you could use a combination of ground beef, pork or lamb.

Beefy Italian Meatballs



Herbs & Spices:

  • 1 Tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon anise
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped


  • 2 pounds ground beef or beef/pork/lamb combination
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley
  • 2 cups bread crumbs, fresh
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup water


1. Mix ingredients thoroughly with hands and form ½ inch meatballs

Scroll to Continue

2. Sauté meatballs in batches without crowding, browning them on all sides and adding enough oil to the skillet to keep them from sticking. Use a spatula to turn them gently, being careful not to smash or break them apart.

3. Drop browned meatballs into sauce, stirring gently with a spatula.

4. Add water to skillet and deglaze, scraping up brown bits. Add this liquid to the tomato sauce and stir gently.

5. Simmer tomato sauce and meatballs for several hours.

6. Serve over pasta and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

7. Meatballs will be even more delicious the second day, if you can wait that long!


How to make chicken cacciatore

When we lived in the Andes, the owner of a coffee plantation generously gave me a farm-raised, free range hen. I made my first chicken cacciatore with that bird and although the dish was delicious, albeit wild and gamey, the meat was too chewy for my tastes. I realized, though, that the original chicken cacciatore was probably created with similar ingredients for the name literally means "hunter's chicken". A grocery store fryer will yield a delicious pot of fall-off-the-bone chicken cacciatore.


  • 1 ½- 3 lb. fryer, cut into pieces


  • For dark meat lovers: choose 2 pounds of legs and thighs
  • For white meat lovers: choose chicken breasts and cut them into two or three pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons capers (optional)
  • 5 Tablespoons sliced green or black olives (optional)
  • 10-15 white mushrooms, sliced


  1. Lightly sauté sliced mushrooms in olive oil, about two minutes. Add to tomato sauce.
  2. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Sauté in about 1/4 inch of oil, in batches, about 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
  3. Add chicken to tomato sauce.
  4. Deglaze skillet with wine, broth or water, scraping up browned bits before adding to sauce.
  5. Add capers and olives, if using.
  6. Simmer sauce for one or two hours. The dish will be even more tasty if refrigerated overnight, as flavors will have a chance to marry.
  7. Serve over pasta, with a dinner salad and garlic bread.


How to make eggplant parmesan

This recipe turns out sweet slices of eggplant with a light, crispy crunch. The addition of silky tomato sauce and nutty cheese makes a meal that's hard to resist.


  • 2 medium or 3 small eggplants, sliced lengthwise, about 3/4 inch thick
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, grated
  • chopped parsley, for garnish
soak eggplant in brine

soak eggplant in brine

set up a breading station

set up a breading station

Fry until golden brown

Fry until golden brown


  1. Dissolve ½ cup salt in 2 cups of cold water.
  2. Soak eggplant slices in salt water for 1 hour to remove bitterness. Water will be black.
  3. Drain eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Set up a breading station with 3 platters or shallow bowls.
  5. Put flour in the first bowl.
  6. In the second bowl, beat eggs and water with a fork until foamy.
  7. In the third bowl, combine bread crumbs with salt and freshly ground pepper to lightly season. Don’t overdo the salt. The eggplant will have already absorbed some salt in the soaking process.
  8. Coat eggplant slices with flour, dip in egg mixture and lastly in seasoned bread crumbs.
  9. Fry in ½ inch of olive oil on both sides until golden brown and tender, adding more oil as necessary.
  10. Drain fried eggplant on paper towels.
  11. When all eggplant has been fried, arrange on a baking sheet. Cover with several cups of sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Broil for a few minutes until cheese melts.
  12. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately with garlic bread and a salad. Eggplant parmesan served on crusty bread makes a delicious sandwich.


Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 14, 2013:

Felina Margetty, thank you for the kind words! Yes, some do brown meatballs in the oven although I haven't had much success with that method. I'm sure your Gran's meatballs were to die for, though!

Felina Margetty from New York, New York on March 13, 2013:

Hi Vespa,

Hope you are well and happy, I see you are getting some more action with this one, good for you. All of your articles are so well written, timeless really.

One thought I would like to share from my gran who says her girlfriend on Mott Street used to use the oven for her meatballs because of the mess involved with frying. She said taste was not sacrificed. Just a thought to share with you as we use some of your recipes occasionally. Love em heaps.................

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 08, 2013:

PeggyW, thanks for making another pass at this Hub. I also love eggplant parmesan--an Italian classic! Thanks for the tweet, too, and all your support. Have a great weekend!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 08, 2013:

Came back to reread your recipes. I have been making other creations with eggplants but will make some eggplant Parmesan again soon. It is one of my favorites! This time will tweet your recipes! :))

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 03, 2013:

Au fait, I'm glad you can appreciate a good eggplant! This eggplant parmesan is light and crunchy--it's my go-to recipe when I'm craving eggplant. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

C E Clark from North Texas on February 03, 2013:

Love all the foods you have in this hub and especially find the eggplant parmesan tantalizing. Have had egg plant many times prepared in other ways and never noticed any bitter taste so I'm a little perplexed about that. Everything here looks and sounds scrumptious and I'm going to try your egg plant recipe for sure!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 08, 2013:

TycoonSam, it's hard to beat these traditional Italian sides! Thanks for the comment and vote.

TycoonSam from Washington, MI on January 07, 2013:

3 recipes, 1 Hub. All of these look and sound delicious. Can't wait to try them.

Voted up and useful!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on December 05, 2012:

It's hard to beat spaghetti & meatballs, a bowl of chicken cacciatore or crispy eggplant parmesan. Thanks for the vote, pin and share Moonlake!

moonlake from America on December 05, 2012:

These recipes sound so good. I will have to keep track of them by pinning this hub. Voted up and shared.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on June 24, 2012:

unknown spy, thanks for the votes and stars!

DragonBallSuper on June 23, 2012:

i love meatballs. Your recipe is mouth-watering. All the votes and stars!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 26, 2012:

gabgirl12, I'd say the eggplant parmesan will feed 3-4, depending on how big the appetites. Thank you for coming by and commenting!

gabgirl12 on May 26, 2012:

I'm definitely going to have to try the Eggplant Parmesan dish. It looks so easy to make. I love eggplant and have never quite dominated how to 'get rid of all the bitterness' when I make it. Would you say that eggplant dish would feed at least 3 people?

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 07, 2012:

There's so much marvelous food in Europe. I'll send you a link tomorrow for a micro-restaurant in Paris that serves food too good to be real! Thanks for commenting, Felina Margetty.

Felina Margetty from New York, New York on April 07, 2012:

This is a great set of recipe's. I love Italian influenced foods. Although the Meatball is famous in every country of Europe, all having their own version. Hungarian is probably my favorite, followed by Italian then Sweedish, my, my, the list goes on. I love the detail and photography in your hubs. They are so well done. Thank you F.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 17, 2012:

Thank you for commenting, Steele Fields! It's nice to meet a fellow cook. The water will make your meatballs extra moist and fennel adds so much flavor. Please let me know how it goes...I'd love to hear from you. : )

susan beck from drexel hill,pa on March 17, 2012:

I can not WAIT to try your eggplant parm recipe- I absolutely love it- order it every time we go to an Italian restaurant- and one night I decided to make it without really knowing what I was doing. Needless to say, I wish I'd know you! Also, never thought to add water to a meatball mixture, nor to add fennel. I make a pot of gravy and a batch of meatballs every weekend and our methods are similar in most other respects. But now that I read this, I'm buying some fennel today and adding it, along with the water to the batch I'm making tomorrow! Thanks vespa!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 25, 2012:

Thank you, molometer, for dropping by and commenting. I enjoy our interesting conversations!

Micheal from United Kingdom on February 24, 2012:

Four of my favorites meals.

This is seriously bookmarked, voted up interesting and useful.

Grandma is cooking up a great bunch of meatballs there. Now I am hungry!

SHARING this with my hubbers.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 14, 2012:

Great, I hope it can be of some use to you. Thanks for dropping in and I look forward to continuing to follow your hubs!

b. Malin on February 14, 2012:

What a Wonderful, Delicious Hub Vespawoolf. Lover Man and I so Enjoyed Italian Food! I also Loved Grandma's Meatball Receipe, as well as yours. Chicken Cacciatore is also one of my Favorites, I'm bookmarking your "Tips". Thanks for sharing.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 13, 2012:

Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing the recipes! : )

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 13, 2012:

Oh my! You have written about 3 of my favorite entrees and it is nearing dinner time. Your meatball recipe sounds very similar to the one I make. Love...absolutely LOVE eggplant parmesan! While I push the up buttons I'm almost drooling. :)) Will SHARE this with my followers who just might wish to add your recipes to their list. Thanks!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 12, 2012:

That's a very good question. Table salt has a slightly metallic taste due to the addition of iodine. Kosher is a little less salty and coarser, so the measurements are different when table salt is used. Personally, though, I think the flavor difference would be very subtle in tomato sauce so either type of salt can be used. Kosher salt is important in baking because the metallic flavor of table salt would be more noticeable. Either way, just taste as you go so you don't over-salt the sauce. Thanks for dropping by, alocsin!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 12, 2012:

How does using kosher salt, as opposed to regular salt, change the taste? Voting this Up and Useful.

Related Articles