This week on the podcast, we talk with Francis Ford Coppola about homelessness, life, friendship, neighborhood history, and his ideas about the future as he tells the remarkable story of North Beach Citizens, the volunteer organization he spearheaded twenty years ago to help grapple with the lives and needs of homeless and unhoused people living in his neighborhood in San Francisco.
This month marks the 20th Anniversary of North Beach Citizens. Normally at this time of year hundreds of people gather in the church basement of Saints Peter & Paul near Washington Square Park for an epic community dinner that raises the funds to keep NBC’s vital series of services available. Like everywhere, the pandemic has been hard on the unhoused and raised their numbers by some 64% in North Beach alone. The need is great.
In year’s past, Coppola would make meatballs for all the guests using a recipe that came from his mother. Perhaps you can help raise some funds in your community with this dish.
The trick to cooking for 500 is to cook in batches. For this event, Francis’ kitchen crew would make 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.
Le Polpette della Mama
Francis Ford Coppola’s Meatball Recipe for 500

Makes 1000 meatballs, feeds 500 People
Lean Ground Beef – 85 pounds
Ground Pork – 60 pounds
Onions – 34 pounds
Parmesan – 51 pounds
Parsley – 34 ounces
Fine bread crumbs – 26 pounds
Eggs – 170 individual
Garlic – 26 ounces
Black Pepper – 10 ounces
Red Pepper Flakes – 15 ounces
Salt – 14 ounces (approx.)
Then taste. You may need more.
Tomato Sauce:
Olive Oil – 1.5 gallons
Onions – 8 pounds
Di Napoli Tomatoes – 51 cans (6 lb 6 oz can)
Sugar – 26 ounces
Tomato paste – 136 ounces
Pork chops – 51 individual
Red wine – 5 bottles
Basil – 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.