Oh meatballs! Who doesn't love them? I think they have become a staple for busy American families. A big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, I think we all grew up on that. I've got one who, at 4 years old, already begs me to make it for her. It's a classic melting pot thing, originally Italian, but now I'd say it's classic American food. But all too often meatballs are purchased in big bags at warehouse stores, with way too much filler and salt and who knows what other processed ingredients. I get it, I used to buy those. But with a little bit time on a weekend afternoon, you can make something that is so much better! They are not hard to make, and are yet another very flexible recipe, and you'll be so glad you did.
To top it off here - I'm not only giving you a great meatball recipe, I'm going to tell you how to cook them so that you'll end up with the most amazing tasting sauce to serve them with!
- 4 pounds of ground meat (any kind you like, but I like to use at least 3 kinds together)
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 Tablespoons worchestershire
- 1 Tablespoon horseradish
- 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 Tablespoon onion powder
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 Tablespoon dried celery
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- a couple quarts of good tomato sauce
First - about the meat. This is totally personal preference. Some people do all beef, some do all turkey. I personally like a blend of meats, I think it makes the meatballs more flavorful. I usually do beef, turkey, and either lamb or pork (this time I actually had a pound of each).
A few eggs help hold everything together. A lot of recipes suggest that you need bread to help bind them, and I have found that this is simply not true. Bread is a great filler. If your budget is tight and you want to make a couple pounds of meat go even further, then bread works great for that, so go for it. (And if you're going to do that to save a little money, then you might as well go one further and use free bread crumbs. I keep a bag in my freezer, into which I throw the ends of the loaves of bread that my family won't eat. When the bag is full, I dump it into the food processor and let her rip - and you have free bread crumbs. Don't buy them!) Anyway - I sidetrack. The point is - breadcrumbs aren't in my recipe because I don't think they're necessary, but feel free to add them if you want to stretch your meat a little further. To this amount of meat I would add maybe up to a cup of breadcrumbs.
After that - the other ingredients are all about adding a little flavor. But I try not to go overboard, I want to actually taste my meat. So many recipes have so much other stuff in them that it's hard to even know what the meat tastes like. I like meat, so I want to taste it. Don't feel like you have to follow this to the letter - if you want more or less of something, go for it. Dried celery can be hard to find, but I dry my own, so I have it handy. Leave it out, or add a little celery seed instead. Or add some oregano, or basil, whatever you like.
Throw everything, except the tomato sauce, in a bowl. Roll up your sleeves, and get in there. I've tried other ways, and really the easiest is to just mix it with your hands. Don't worry. You're washable.
Meanwhile - get your sauce in a big pot on the stove and get it simmering. I made a super simple sauce in the summer time with just fresh garden tomatoes, garlic and salt, blended in my vitamix - for this dinner I just took some of my homemade sauce out of the freezer. But it's not summer any more, so fresh tomatoes are not the thing. But you can easily make a similar quick sauce with just a couple quarts of good organic canned tomatoes. Throw them in the blender with some garlic and salt, a little basil if you want. In my opinion, that's all you need. You can buy jars of premade sauce if you want, but I don't think it's necessary.
Back to the meatballs. Once it's all really well mixed, pinch off a little piece and cook it in a pan. You want to taste it for seasoning before you cook them all up. A few minutes on each side over medium/high heat should be good. Give it a taste and see what you think. Need more salt? more garlic? more cheese? Adjust your seasoning and then you're ready to go.
Start shaping them into balls. I like to make them small-ish, about the size of a walnut or a golf ball, maybe a little smaller. I love an over-sized meatball as well, but I think smaller is more practical for family meals - little kids have an easier time handling them, they cook more evenly, and they are easier to freeze and reheat.
Now here's where it gets a little different from how you might be doing it. A lot of recipes have you cook off those meatballs in the oven. That's how I did it for years (and sometimes still do). But then a friend mentioned how she did them. Actually, she said something about her son wanting some chicken parmesan. But she didn't want to take the time to make it, because in order to make chicken parm, she first had to make meatballs. Wait, what? What do meatballs have to do with chicken parm? Well, it's the sauce! Her tomato sauce recipe for her family's chicken parm recipe requires that you have sauce that has had meatballs cooked in it! Seriously. I had to try this.
Think about it - have you cooked meatballs in the oven? You know all that yummy flavored stuff that oozes out of them and gets left on the pan? Well that now ends up in your sauce!
So go ahead and cook those meatballs in that simmering sauce! Depending on how wide your pot is, it might take 2 or 3 batches of cooking, so you're not crowding them too much. Just set them gently in the sauce, cover, and let simmer on med/low heat for about 15 minutes. Take them out with a slotted spoon so you're leaving the sauce behind for the next batch.
Now you've got a pile of the juiciest meatballs ever, and a pot of sauce with the most amazing flavor. What you do from here depends on what your plans are. If you're serving spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, then you can put the meatballs back in the sauce to keep warm, and then cook up your spaghetti. Or go ahead and use that sauce for your chicken parm, and spread your meatballs out on wax paper lined baking sheets to freeze.
This recipe should leave you with a lot of meatballs. Depending on size, at least 4 dozen, probably more. You can have a nice dinner and then end up with plenty to freeze. Just lay them out on a wax paper lined baking sheet and freeze, then when they are frozen you can peel them off and bag them. Now you have a bag of frozen meatballs that are just as handy as the ones from the store, but taste so much better.
If you don't want to deal with the whole sauce thing, of course you can still use this recipe and just bake the meatballs in the oven. They will still taste great and be great to freeze.