Not just another meatball….with just 2 little changes to the usual recipe, these are extra juicy, extra soft and with an extra little something in the flavour that will have everybody begging for seconds – and thirds! UPDATE: I’ve now shared an epic Italian Meatball SOUP!
We need more ball shaped food in this world. Everything I know that comes in ball-form is irresistible. Think about it! Arancini balls. Truffles. Cheese balls. Croquette balls. Doughnut balls. And a dizzying array of Asian delicacies – takoyaki (Japanese fried balls with octopus inside), Indian sweets, Chinese Yum Cha sesame crusted sticky rice balls, fish balls (it’s like Thai fish cakes – in ball form!).
Ugh. I almost had to wipe my chin thinking about all that. And it’s only scratching the surface of all the ball shaped delights in this world!
And of course, meatballs tops the list of ball shaped food.
As strange as this will sound, my first experience with meatballs – ever – was only about 3 years ago. A friend and her husband, who is a “serious” cooking enthusiast, housesat while I was away and I returned home to a dinner of meatballs made from hand ground beef. This ruined me for life. You see, he set the bar so darn high, I became a meatball snob.
So it will come as no surprise to you that I immediately embarked on a serious mission to create my own “perfect” meatball recipe.
So today I’m sharing my “perfect” meatball recipe. I didn’t call it “The Best Italian Meatballs” because everybody probably thinks theirs is the best, and I’m not so arrogant to think that mine are the best in the whole wide world. But these are perfect to me, for my tastes. I like my meatballs really soft and juicy. And I have one little secret step I do to add extra flavour into the meatballs which is a bit unique.
So here are the two things I do differently to the usual meatball recipe:
1. Bread is the secret to soft, moist meatballs. Really, it is! Not breadcrumbs. Bread. Plain sandwich bread. Soak to soften, then it literally disintegrates when it’s mixed through the meat. My theory for why they make the meatballs so light and fluffy is that similar to french toast (and regular readers know what a french toast fiend I am), the soaked bread expands when cooked and so it sort of separates the beef mince (ground beef), almost creating little air pockets in the meatballs.
2. Add grated onion. 80% of my recipes start with “sauté onion until golden”. And there’s a reason for that. Onion is a flavour base that can’t be beaten. And I wanted to get that into my meatballs. Grating the onions serves a few purposes. Firstly, it’s the juicy grated onion that is used to soak the bread, rather than milk or water which is what other recipes use. This way the liquid balance is not thrown out of balance.
Secondly, there is no need to cook the onions before adding into meatballs. If you use raw diced onion in the meatballs, you run the risk of having raw onions in them – unless you cook them for longer in which case you risk of overcooking the meatballs!
Thirdly, unless you dice the onion very, very finely, there is a tendency for the onion to affect how well the meatball holds together.
I do always have one big dilemma every time I make these (other than trying to restrain myself from just having one more meatball…last one I swear….just one more…): what pasta to serve them with? I love them all. I love it with spaghetti as much as I do shells. I’m also particularly partial to spiral pasta because I love being able to shovel it in my mouth with a spoon! 😉
What kind of pasta do you like your meatballs with?
- 1 lightly packed cup of sliced white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces, crusts removed (Note 1)
- ½ cup grated onion (brown, white or yellow)
- 14 oz / 400 g ground beef (beef mince)
- 3 oz / 100g ground pork (mince) or substitute with ground beef (beef mince) (Note 2)
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (Note 3)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (or parmesan), freshly grated
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ¾ cup onion, finely chopped (white, brown or yellow)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 24 oz / 700 g tomato passata (also known as Tomato Puree in America - Note 4)
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tsp red pepper (chili) flakes
- 3 tsp dried Italian herb mix (parsley, basil, thyme, oregano)
- 1 tsp salt
- Black pepper
- Pasta of choice (I like spaghetti and twirls!)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano (or parmesan), freshly grated
- Parsley, finely chopped (optional)
- Place the bread and onion in a large bowl. Mix to combine so the onion juice soaks the bread.
- Add all the remaining Meatball ingredients except the olive oil. Use you hands to mix well.
- Measure out a heaped tablespoon and roll lightly to form a ball. Repeat with remaining mixture. (Note 5)
- Heat 1½ tbsp olive oil in a large non stick fry pan over medium high heat. Add the meatballs and brown all over - about 5 minutes. I prefer to shake the pan gently to roll the meatballs around, rather than using a spoon (they hold their shape better).
- When they are browned but NOT cooked through, carefully transfer them onto a plate.
- Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil into the fry pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Add the remaining Sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then turn down to medium low so it bubbles gently rather than splattering everywhere.
- Carefully transfer the meatballs and any juices that have pooled on the plate into the Sauce.
- Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes, turning and stirring occasionally. Adjust Sauce salt and pepper to taste.
- While the meatballs are cooking, cook your pasta of choice.
- Serve the meatballs on pasta, garnished with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley if using.
If you prefer, you can substitute with ½ cup breadcrumbs - preferably panko. But the meatballs won't be as soft!
2. Pork is slightly fattier than beef so it helps make these extra juicy. I only use 3½ oz / 100 g because pork has less flavour than beef and I don't want to dilute the flavour. This isn't hugely critical though and you should feel free to just use 1 lb / 500 g beef mince which is what I do on ordinary nights. :)
3. You can substitute with 1½ tbsp dried parsley, or a mix of equal amounts of dried oregano, thyme, basil and parsley. You could also use an Italian herb mix if you wanted to.
4. Tomato passata is just pureed tinned tomatoes. Nowadays it is readily available in supermarkets, usually alongside pasta sauces. It costs just a tiny bit more, sometimes the same, as canned tomatoes. If you can't find it, puree canned tomatoes or use crushed canned tomatoes. It's great because you don't need to cook it as long as crushed tomatoes in order for it to break down into a thick tomato sauce.
5. Here's how I roll meatballs - measure out heaped tablepoons of mixture and pop them onto a plate with the flick of your wrist. Repeat with all the mixture. THEN wet your hands slightly and roll them one by one. I find this faster than measuring and rolling each one separately. :) Don't over roll them! They will become tough!
Nutrition assuming 5 servings.
PS Don’t miss my epic Italian Meatball SOUP made with these amazing meatballs!