Sunday, February 14, 2010


I have a funny story about meatballs.  Then again, who doesn't?

A few years back, I was sitting at lunch with some colleagues.  We were all brown-bagging it and chatting over our meals.  I happened to have brought a couple meatballs with sauce, leftover from the previous night's dinner.

One of my colleagues remarked at how good they looked.  I offered her a sample.  She tried it, and her eyes opened wide.  "My goodness, these are so good!  I make meatballs all the time and they're never this good."

I asked her how she made them.

"Well," she replied, "I use extra lean ground beef."

"Strike one," I said.

"Then I add bread crumbs," she added.

"Strike two."

"Oh dear, what should I do differently?"

The trick to making great meatballs is that you must use fatty meat (ground chuck, typically about 80% lean is perfect), and you need to add some sort of moistened filler, which helps tenderize the meatballs.  So many recipes call for dry bread crumbs, which is a mistake, I think.  Our family's method (shared by many, many old-style Italian home cooks) is to add moistened bread: fresh or slightly stale white bread that has been moistened with either milk or even water.

This recipe makes a lot of meatballs, probably more than would be consumed in one family meal.  Feel free to make the whole recipe, cook the meatballs, then pop the unused ones into a freezer bag for your next pot of sauce. 

3 lb ground chuck (80% lean)
1 1/2 Tbp salt
1/2 Tbp pepper
1 c pecorino romano cheese
3 eggs
1 cup finely chopped parsley
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
8-9 slices of white bread, processed into soft bread crumbs (about 5 cups loose crumbs; about 12 oz by weight; I prefer Pepperidge Farm or Arnold's white sandwich breads)
1 1/2 cups milk

Pulse the bread in a food processor into crumbs.  They should be soft crumbs.  8 or 9 slices of bread will be about 12 oz or about 5 cups of crumbs.  Add milk to the crumbs, and mix gently to moisten the crumbs.  Let sit 10 minutes.  This will look like a LOT of bread.  Don't worry -- it makes a great meatball.

Moistened fresh bread crumbs

Break up ground beef into a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and moistened bread crumbs. With your immaculately clean hands, mix the ingredients well, as you would for a meatloaf.

Beef, eggs, parsley, cheese, salt & pepper.

Adding crushed garlic.

Mixing the ingredients by hand.

Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with release spray.  Use a two-ounce ice-cream scoop to scoop up some of the mixture and roll into a ball.  Line the sheet with the meatballs.  This recipe will make about 72 meatballs. 

A 2-oz scoop works best.

 Six dozen meatballs from this recipe.

40 minutes in a 350°F convection oven.
One meatball may have been removed for quality-control purposes.

Bake the meatballs in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes until browned.  Alternately (and more traditionally) you can fry the meatballs in oil or shortening.  The result will be a crisper, more browned exterior.  [N.B.  I always fried my meatballs, typically in vegetable oil.  More recently, I got a new convection oven, and have found that it produces a beautifully brown meatball that would make you forget about frying meatballs ever again.]

[Recipe revision: I've found that baking the meatballs at 400°F for about 18-20 mins gives a browner result, and if you turn them halfway through baking, they'll brown evenly all over.  I recommend using non-stick aluminum foil, too. ]

If you're using these as part of a tomato sauce, put the cooked meatballs into the sauce about 15 minutes before you're ready to serve, so that they heat through, but don't cook much more.

1 comment:

  1. I've used your meatball recipe twice now and I'm really pleased with how simple and tasty it is. I used my conventional oven at 350 for 40 min and they were cooked through but as you mentioned, they don't have the crispy brown exterior. I used my convection toaster oven at 350 for 30 min (not as many meatballs) and I got the best of both worlds. Thanks for posting this. I need to try one of your other recipes.