May 16, 2014


It seems like the simplest dishes are the most difficult to prepare. While I have yet to find a flawless mac and cheese recipe, the good news is that I have perfected my meatball recipe. It's taken years to do so, and I've tried everything from my Grandma's recipe to buttermilk, panko, and gelatin. It's pretty hard to make a bad meatball, but it's even harder to make an outstanding one. Luckily, this recipe is simple and flavorful, and it comes with an amazing marinara sauce recipe, too.

Let's start with the meat. You can't have meatballs without meat (although I know some vegetarians who beg to differ). The "classic" Italian trio is beef, pork, and veal, but I've found that veal is a little hard to come by and is often a little too expensive. Beef and pork work just fine, though you can always substitute some veal if you like.

Next is the big bread crumbs vs soaked bread debate. My grandma always took some slices of sandwich bread, removed the crust, and let it sit in hot milk or water. Another recipe I tried had you soak panko crumbs in buttermilk. That was a little weird for me, so I figured I'd go back to basics. Meatballs need some sort of bread for textural purposes, but I don't always have sandwich bread or any other suitable bread in my house. One of my main goals for this recipe was to make it easy and accessible, something I could make on a whim without having to go to the supermarket. I always have plain breadcrumbs, and fortunately they work perfectly in this recipe. You don't even have to soak them in anything.

From there, it's pretty standard. You add your eggs, some milk, some parmesan, and some seasoning. I like to go easy on the herbs because the marinara sauce usually has enough and I don't want it to be overpowering. To cook the meatballs, I first sear them in batches in a skillet to get a nice crust on them. That's usually not enough to cook them through or make them all that tender, so I transfer them to a big pot of marinara sauce to simmer for 30-60 minutes. You can go longer, but I usually can't wait much more than that to dig in.

Since you cook the meatballs for so long in the marinara (and I usually douse my pasta in the sauce, too), you need to make sure you have a good one. If you have a favorite brand of jarred sauce, you can definitely use that. I, however, have an extremely easy recipe that only takes a few minutes to put together. Because I like a smooth sauce, I take a few cans of tomato puree (two 28 oz cans usually make enough) and add some olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, and spices. You don't even have to cook it because it cooks enough with the meatballs. Adding the leftover fat from searing the meatballs adds a touch of savory flavor and brings the whole sauce together, but of course that is completely optional, especially if you decide to make the sauce without the meatballs.

Your grandma may be a little shocked if she catches you making someone else's meatballs, but these are definitely worth a try. This is a simple, classic recipe that makes enough for any occasion. I made a batch a few days ago and I'm still eating leftovers for lunch (happily, of course!).

Update September 2017: I have figured out the secret to make absolutely PERFECT meatballs. These are great to begin with, but the secret to light and incredibly moist meatballs is even more cheese. Yes, Wisconsin has gotten to me over the last 3-ish years. Adding a few dollops of ricotta adds an incomparable fluffiness to the meatballs with an almost creamy texture. I've been making these meatballs for years, so of course the recipe is still good without the ricotta, but if you're looking for that little something to boost your meatball recipe over the edge, head back to the cheese section.

1 lb Ground Beef
1 lb Ground Pork
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup Milk
1 Cup Breadcrumbs
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Oregano
Marinara Sauce (See Recipe Below)

Combine the eggs and milk. Stir in the breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano. Stir in the ricotta. Add the ground beef and ground pork. Roll the mixture into balls.

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add the meatballs and cook, turning often, until brown on all sides. Pour the marinara sauce over the meatballs and simmer for 30 minutes.

Marinara Sauce:
Pour 2 28 oz cans of tomato puree into a large pot. Add 1 1/2 cups water, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 T lemon juice, 2 T sugar, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp basil, 2 tsp thyme, 1 T garlic powder, and 1 T onion powder. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 8-12
Adapted from

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