Mastering Meatballs

meatballs served over linguine with parmigiano-reggiano and fresh parsley

meatballs served over linguine with parmigiano-reggiano and fresh parsley

In My Year of Italian Cooking I want to go beyond the basic Italian-American dishes I grew up with but I also want to be sure to master some of the crowd-pleasers that are so beloved and easy to make. And thus I bring you meatballs!

I’ve dabbled in turkey meatballs with some success and I have a favorite Mediterranean Beef Pita recipe which calls for mini-meatballs served with hummus, red onion, parsley, and cucumber. But I’ve kept my distance from the traditional spaghetti and meatballs because part of me has always wished that my family had a secret meatball recipe passed down through the ages but sadly we do not. At least not one I know about (I’m lookin’ at you Serafinos and Reales – help a girl out!).

A month or two ago, my husband decided to make meatballs. He looked at a couple of recipes and then went with one in a basic cookbook we’ve had for ages called Pasta: Tasty Recipes for Every Day. Throughout dinner that night and the next night when we ate leftovers, I couldn’t stop saying how delicious the meatballs were. I was a bit surprised that such a great dish came from what I perceived to be an average cookbook. It made me reconsider what makes a truly delectable home cooked meal. Who cares what cookbook it comes from? In an age of expensive gourmet foods, trendy upscale restaurants employing new techniques and artful food presentation, and celebrity chefs, it’s easy to forget that the food we love most — the food that nourishes our bodies and souls — often comes from humble beginnings and simple preparations. And the recipes of home cooks are often the inspiration for the restaurant dishes which achieve recognition. This meatball recipe reminded me that a good home cooked meal is accessible and attainable by all.

Since then, we’ve made meatballs two more times. They were a big hit with my teenage brother-in-law, proving once again that crowd-pleasing classics are worth mastering.

Another thing making meatballs has taught me is to be less concerned with perfection, something I struggle with in cooking and life in general. In the case of meatballs, forgetting an ingredient (pepper, onions, etc.) does not make or break the dish, it just provides a different flavor profile.

I have a feeling I’ll be using this recipe for years to come; it’s user-friendly and basic with room for experimentation.

adapted from Pasta: Tasty Recipes for Every Day’s Spaghetti with Meatballs

Makes enough for 4

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (traditionally, Italian breadcrumbs, though we had great results with Panko)
1 onion finely diced*
2 garlic cloves, diced
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

In a large bowl, combine beef, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, Worcestershire, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix ingredients until well combined.

Roll meatballs about a tablespoon large, dust lightly with flour, and shake off excess.

meatballs dusted with flour before cooking

meatballs dusted with flour before cooking

Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the meatballs, in batches if needed, turning frequently until browned on all sides, approximately 8-10 minutes over medium heat. Slice into a meatball to check for desired doneness, though remember they will cook some more when simmered in sauce. When ready, remove meatballs from pan and drain any leftover oil.

browned meatballs removed from pan before heating with sauce

browned meatballs removed from pan before heating with sauce

This is a good point at which to sauté some veggies to add to your sauce. We sautéed leeks, onions, and mushrooms. Then, add sauce (either homemade or prepared) to the pan and add the meatballs back in, bringing the sauce to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.

meatballs simmering in sauce with leeks, onions, and mushrooms

meatballs simmering in sauce with leeks, onions, and mushrooms

Serve with spaghetti or your favorite pasta and enjoy!

*I made the mistake of not dicing the onion finely enough one time. Although the taste wasn’t negatively affected, the larger pieces of onion made it harder for the meatballs to stay together in the pan.


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