Meatballs 2 ways – 2 easy!
Tender and juicy meatballs filled with herbs and garlic, smothered in a simple tomato sauce and covered with melty cheese – what’s NOT to love about this dish? The fact that it can be prepared ahead, is either a big batch or a freezer friendly eat-now-freeze-half-for-later option, and comes with TWO different serving options is just a bonus. Add in that this is pretty much a budget friendly meal and this is a winner. Well, anyone with kids already knew that meatballs are a winner dinner. My boys would happily front up for spaghetti and meatballs any night of the week, and I had developed a meatball recipe that allowed me to make a meal and freeze a batch for another night. But as time went on, and my culo was spreading, I realised that perhaps it was time to try the meatballs WITHOUT the carb load of pasta. So this meant that the meatballs would have to get more interesting on their own. Luckily, Tuesday nights with the Allies have leant themselves to some meatball experimentation, all with good results but not quite reaching the perfect combo. Is this it? Getting pretty close I think. Now, if you are wanting to serve with pasta – go right ahead. Recently Wendy and I substituted zasta (zucchini noodles) for the pasta with great results – lower carbs and lighter delicious meal.
So start with the meat. I use a combination of beef and pork, and today could only get a veal and pork mix at the supermarket, so went with that. I like the flavour that the pork mince gives, but if pork is not your thing, just use beef or maybe a beef veal combo. (that was just for your benefit Holly!)
Once I had roughly chopped the herbs, I added them to the fresh breadcrumbs for a final whiz; the result was finely chopped herbs that dispersed nicely through the mixture. (Note about the breadcrumbs. The whole point of them is to help bind the meatballs together but to keep them moist and tender. Please DO NOT use the pre-packaged kind! If you don’t have a processor to make your own, soak two slices of bread in some milk while you are chopping the herbs, squeeze out the excess moisture, then break up the bread until it looks like a fine crumb. Too easy!)
Add the herby crumbs to the meat with an egg, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and three cloves of garlic, along with a good dose of salt and pepper. Now for the fun part; mix it all together until well combined. There is no better utensil than your hands! Once combined, shape into meatballs. I wanted larger ones for dinner, but also made some smaller ones to freeze for a future meal with pasta.
These are best left in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up, or this is where you can freeze them. Heat some oil in a fry pan over a medium heat and brown the meatballs all over; about 6 minutes. I did this in two batches. Don’t worry about cooking all the way through; this will happen in the oven – you just want nice colour and flavour here.
Once cooked, place in an ovenproof dish. (Obsession confession: I spent a great deal of time yesterday trying to locate and purchase a round oven dish. I had a clear picture in my head of a rustic terracotta round dish, preferably with some red glaze. Outcome – still looking! It just was so wrong to put round balls in a square dish! So I had to settle for oval, but the search continues…..)
Now for the sauce. If you are pressed for time, I will not judge if you open a bottle of passata now and pour over to speed up the process. But you will be missing out! Start by frying off an onion in the pan you used to cook the meatballs. Add some garlic and stir until softened and fragrant – about 10 minutes. Add some wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up all the good bits. White or red wine is up to you – I used white because I had it open in the fridge and the red was a Chianti that required a corkscrew and I was in a rush (this is how great culinary decisions are made!) Throw in two tins of crushed tomatoes. I like this brand:
The tomatoes are more finely crushed than others, but again use what you have in the pantry. Add in a teaspoon of sugar, some beef stock, salt and pepper and pop a lid on and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Add some chopped basil and oregano and stir through. And here is the secret ingredient – balsamic vinegar. Just a teaspoon really lifts this sauce to a new level. Of course, right? Tomatoes and vinegar are great together! If the sauce is looking a little thick, add some more stock or water. Too thin? Let it simmer for a few more minutes until it reaches the consistency you desire. Pour the sauce over the meatballs, cover with foil and pop into a preheated 180°C oven for 20 minutes. (This is a stage that you can stop and cool to refrigerate or even freeze for cooking later. If refrigerating, bring meatballs and dish to room temperature and then heat in oven for 25 minutes)
Now top with cheese. I used a combination of bocconcini, provolone and parmesan cheese. Provolone cheese has a strong flavour and melts very well. If you can’t find or don’t like, adjust the amounts of bocconcini and parmesan.
Meanwhile, make the gremolata. This is not essential, but really brings the dish back to life with some freshness. Finely chop a cup of parsley leaves and mix with a the finely grated zest if a lemon. Usually gremolata would have garlic as well, but this dish really did not need any more – just trust me on this one.
Just out of the oven:
and the boys were clamouring around the bench doing their hungry dance! When will they invent a smell button for food blogs? Because let me share; this smelled fantastic! Mouthwateringly fantastic in fact. The boys struggled to wait until I had served everyone and certainly did not want to hang around for any of that green stuff (gremolata or salad!)
- 500g beef mince
- 500g pork mince (or a pork and veal mix)
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 heaped tbs each of fresh oregano, parsley and basil, finely chopped
- 1 egg
- salt and pepper
- Olive oil for frying
- 1 small brown onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp each dried oregano and basil
- 2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup wine (red or white - depending on your preference)
- ½ cup beef stock
- 1 tbs chopped basil leaves
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt and pepper
- 100g bocconcini or mozzarella cheese, torn or grated
- 100g pecorino cheese, grated
- 2 tbs finely grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- olive oil to bind
- Combine mince, fresh breadcrumbs, herbs, cheese, garlic, egg and salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix well with your hands until thoroughly incorporated. Shape into meatballs (your desired size - small for eating with pasta; large for eating alone). Cover and refrigerate meatballs for 10 minutes.
- Heat a large fry pan over medium heat, add oil and fry meatballs until brown all over; about 6 minutes. Do not worry if they are not cooked through, this will occur during baking
- Remove meatballs and place in ovenproof dish.
- In the same fry pan, heat extra oil and fry onion and garlic until soft. Stir through the dried herbs. Add wine to deglaze the pan, lifting off all the tasty goodness that will be stuck there. Add tomatoes, beef stock. sugar and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add basil leaves and balsamic vinegar.
- Place tomato sauce over meatballs and cover with foil.
- Cook in a preheated 180°C oven for 25 minutes. Remove, top with grated cheese, and return uncovered to oven for a further 10-15 minutes until cheese is golden and melted.
- To make gremolata - finely chop parsley and mix with lemon zest and enough olive oil to bind together
- Serve meatballs and sauce topped with gremolata with a green salad and lots of crusty bread to mop up that wonderful sauce
This recipe is perfect for preparing and freezing half for future dinners.
If you do not eat pork, use beef mince or a mixture of beef and veal