Make-Ahead Meals, Easy Meatballs

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Grandma Mallardi’s Italian Meatballs

(Grandma Mallardi’s Italian Meatballs)

Meatballs are a wonderful thing and can be used in so much more than just pasta. From appetizers and soups, sandwiches, salads and other main meals. Meatballs can please a wide variety of needs and tastes.

This Multitasking Recipe™ was created with inspiration from my Italian Grandmother who always made the best meatballs and marinara or “gravy” as she called it. As much as I try to stay true to her traditional recipe I have always been one to find the easiest way to get the best results. I recently shared that you don’t need recipes to cook real food. I have adapted her recipe into one of my Multitasking Recipes™ that make life easier and use the ingredients I have on hand. This recipe makes delicious traditional Italian-style meatballs but also serves as a guide to fit other tastes and needs like spicy black bean, turkey quinoa, chicken and buffalo meatballs. Try it out, make it your own! You never know what tasty signature treat you will create.

Think beyond beef, yes the classic spaghetti and meatballs is a favorite of most but meatballs can be made from many different ingredients. There are just a few simple steps to making a tasty meatball creation.

Here’s how to do this.

Choose your Meat:

As you would have guessed, meat is the main component of a meatball. Choose your favorite kind of ground meat. Any type will work. When using beef I like to use a 80/20 grade but you can choose what is best for your needs. Keep in mind that the fattier the meat you use, the tenderer your meatballs will be. To make meatballs with turkey, chicken, or lean ground meat (or a mix of these), watch the cooking a little more carefully. Because they lack fat, they can overcook and become tough much more quickly.

Once you feel comfortable making meatballs with one variety of meat try blending together different cuts and proteins making for a richer, more complex flavor. Like beef, pork and veal, or ground chicken thighs with turkey to find your perfect custom blend.

Choose your combination: Pick one from each group and follow the recipe below, add and adjust the seasonings as you desire.

Meat (1lb)

Binder (½ cup) Liquid (1/4 cup) Herbs Optional Seasonings
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Veal
  • Buffalo
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • bread crumbs
  • torn up bread
  • Panko
  • croutons
  • stuffing mix
  • crackers
  • milk
  • buttermilk
  • thinned yogurt
  • thinned sour cream
  • rehydrated dry milk
  • parsley
  • basil
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • marjoram
  • rosemary
  • tarragon
  • cilantro
  • mint
  • cheeses
  • lemon zest
  • spicy pepper
  • Worcestershire
  • hot sauce
  • shallots
  • paprika
  • cumin

Simply plug your choices into the Basic Meatball Recipe below.

For example to make my Italian-Style Meatballs the recipe would look like this:

Italian-Style Meatballs

  • 1 lb meat (beef)
  • ½ breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ cup fresh herbs or 1 tablespoon dried (dried Italian seasoning)
  • ½ cup Parmesan

For Turkey Quinoa Meatballs it would look like this:

  • 1 lb meat (turkey)
  • ½ packed cooked quinoa (using this in place of bread crumbs and milk, quinoa is already cooked so no need to rehydrate with extra milk)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ cup fresh herbs like parsley, rosemary and chives
  • ½ cup Parmesan optional

Get it? Now plug in what you have on hand and create you own meatball masterpiece. Enjoy!

Basic Meatball Recipe

  • 1 lb Meat
  • ½ cup Binder
  • 1/4 cup Liquid
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (or other favorite seasonings)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ cup fresh herbs or 1 tablespoon dried
  • ½ cup Parmesan optional (if using salty cheese you may want to reduce the amount of salt by half)

*This recipe can be doubled

Instructions

  1. Combine the Binder with the Liquid: In a small bowl combine binder with the liquid and set aside while preparing the rest of the meatball mix. The binder will absorb the liquid and become slightly soggy.
  2. In a large bowl add the egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and herbs, or other desired seasonings; whisk until blended.
  3. Add the meat, soft binder and cheese (if using) to the egg mixture and mix with your hands just until all ingredients are combined. Try not to overwork the meat; pinch the meat between your fingers rather than kneading it.
  4. Make a test patty. After you combine all your ingredients take a small potion of the mixture and flatten it into a small patty. In a small sauté pan thoroughly cook the patty and taste it to make sure you like the seasonings; if not make adjustments as necessary.

NOTE: When making your own recipes remember: If you are unsure of a seasoning – add it to just a small quantity of the meat to test it out first or add it sparingly as you can always add more once you have tasted it. Never taste raw meat.

  1. Form the meat into meatballs:lightly oil your hand before beginning to shape them. Pinch off a piece of the meat mixture and gently roll between your hands to form a standard 1 1/2-inch meatball. Continue shaping until all the meat is used. Make the meatballs in the size that works best for you. Depending on how you’ll serve them you may want them larger for a single serving or smaller for appetizers and soups. If they’re served on their own, they should be about 2 inches in diameter. In a pasta dish or a sandwich, a medium meatball will be good. This one is all about preference, but just consider how the meatballs will be eaten to help you decide. Keep in mind that the size will also effect your cooking time and how many each batch makes.
  2. Cooking. To roast the meatballs in the oven:Arrange the meatballs spaced slightly apart on a baking sheet. Bake at 425°F for 15 to 30 minutes or broil for 15-25 minutes depending on the size for a more seared edge. Watch closely if cooking meatballs made with lean meat. The meatballs are done when cooked through and the outsides are browned and if using an instant-read thermometer register 160°F in the middle.

Meatballs are wonderful because they can easily be frozen and heated quickly for meals. Cook meatballs thoroughly as directed and cool completely before securely packaging them in a freezer container, airtight bag or freezer wrap. Thaw in the refrigerator or warm by adding directly to a low simmering sauce or warm oven for 10- 15 minutes.

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