Aside from the occasional brush with the Swedish variety, I didn’t grow up eating meatballs very often. But then I had kids, and eventually discovered that the one way they will all eat meat is in meatball form. Needless to say, meatballs are now a regular feature at our dinner table. I used to buy frozen turkey meatballs, which are certainly fine in a pinch, but they’re not as tender as homemade, and they can be expensive. And once I discovered a fuss-free method (no frying, flipping or scrubbing the stove!) for cooking the meatballs (inspired by Cooks’ Illustrated), the little investment of time in making them was definitely worth it.
This is not so much a recipe as a method. For each pound of ground meat (beef, pork, veal, turkey, or any combination thereof), add one crumbled piece of sandwich bread soaked in 1/3 cup of milk or cream, and various seasonings. If you have some extra time, finely chop 1/2 an onion and a couple cloves of garlic, and sauté them in a bit of olive oil until soft before adding them to the meat. Otherwise, sprinkle in some garlic powder and onion powder. If you’re going to serve your meatballs with marinara sauce, add some Italian seasoning (1 tsp.) and maybe a little fennel seed (1/2 tsp). If you’re making a brown gravy, a couple shakes of Worcestershire sauce are nice. For Swedish meatballs, add a pinch of nutmeg or mace, and a little dill.
Mix everything together well (get your hands in there!), and roll into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. You can certainly make bigger ones, but much smaller than that and they dry out. Put a cooling rack on top of a sheet pan (line it with foil for easier clean up) and spray the rack with nonstick spray (or brush it with vegetable oil). Line up the meatballs on the rack and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until browned. Transfer meatballs to a pot of the sauce of your choice and heat through.
This batch was for Eight’s birthday dinner: meatball sub sandwiches. They have a little surprise inside: a cheesy center! I rolled them with 1/2-inch pieces of mozzarella tucked in the center. Three or four sticks of string cheese are perfect for this.
I like this meal for so many reasons. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy it (vegetarian friends excepted, of course). It’s great for a party or a busy weeknight or when you’re expecting houseguests with an uncertain ETA. Just keep the meatballs simmering in their sauce in a deep pot on the stove, or better yet, the slow cooker. Make a salad, cook up some pasta, or set out a big basket of submarine rolls, and then pour a glass of wine and put your feet up until it’s time for dinner. (I realize that’s just a fantasy. But you can go scrub the bathroom or crack the homework whip or check your email without worrying about burning the food!)