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  Hidden Kitchens: Francis Ford Coppola’s Meatballs for 500  
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Francis Ford Coppola's Meatballs for 500

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Le Polpette della Mama
Francis Ford Coppola’s Homeless Meatball Recipe for 500

Who glues your community through food? In San Francisco’s North Beach, once a year it is Francis Ford Coppola in collaboration with poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Coppola started a neighborhood organization, the North Beach Citizens, to help the homeless in the Italian neighborhood where his film company, American Zoetrope, is based. For the last four years, he has gathered the community in the basement of St. Peter’s and Paul’s church for a family-style feast that raises money to support the services the group provides.

This meatball recipe came from Francis’s mother. Perhaps you can help raise some funds in your community for the homeless with this recipe for 500.
The trick to cooking for 500 is to cook in batches. For this event, Francis’ kitchen crew makes the meatballs in 17 batches with the proportions as follows: 5 pounds of ground beef, 1.5 pounds of bread crumbs, 3.5 pounds ground pork, 10 eggs, 2 ounces parsley, 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, 2 ounces of garlic, ½ ounce of black pepper, one ounce of red pepper flakes and salt to taste.

The sauce is made in one big pot. In addition to using great canned tomatoes, (he uses di Napoli), The secret to making good tomato sauce is excellent extra-virgin olive oil.

Makes 1000 meatballs, feeds 500 People.


Lean Ground Beef
Ground Pork
Fine bread crumbs
Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes

Then taste. You may need more.


85 pounds
60 pounds
34 pounds
51 pounds
34 ounces
26 pounds
170 individual
26 ounces
10 ounces
15 ounces
14 ounces (approx.)

Tomato Sauce:
Olive Oil
Di Napoli Tomatoes
Tomato paste
Pork chops 
Red wine


1.5 gallons
8 pounds
51 cans  (6 lb 6 oz can)
26 ounces
136 ounces
51 individual
5 bottles
2 lbs


In a large bowl mix together the lean ground beef and the ground pork.  Add the chopped onions, finely chopped garlic, and the breadcrumbs.  Add the eggs, parsley, Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste and red pepper flakes. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together.  Make sure all the ingredients are well combined before you begin to form the meatballs.

Take about 3 ounces of meat to form the meatball.  You want them to be big, roll into the size of large golf ball. 

Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over very high heat.  (You do not need to have a lot of oil in the pan.  ¼ of an inch of oil is good.) Fry about 10 of the meatballs, at a time turning on all sides browned all over. They do not need to be cooked through entirely.  You will eventually put them in the sauce to continue cooking.  You want them to just be beautifully browned on all sides. 

Open the cans of di Napoli whole plum tomatoes. Use your hands to smoosh the tomatoes a little bit. Using the strainer over a bowl, strain the tomatoes catching the juice in the bowl. Reserve juice.

In another large saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chopped onions and sauté until clear. Add fresh basil leaves, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the red wine and the crushed tomatoes delicately to the mixture.  Cook for 15 minutes at a boil, stirring constantly.  Add meatballs and the pork chops and lower the heat to low to a simmer for 40 minutes.  Stir so as not to scorch the bottom, but gently so as not to break up the meatballs. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs and the pork chops out and set aside.

Stir in the sugar and the tomato paste and cook for another 30 minutes until sauce is thick.

To serve, ladle sauce over individual bowls of pasta and top with two meatballs. Sprinkle with Parmesan and fresh b