Meatballs are a food group. That is to say, they're a staple food, for me. And there’s always a group of them in the freezer. Meatballs are easy to put together, versatile, and cost-effective. And what better way to welcome people into your home than with a big pot of meatballs simmering on the stove?
Here are my core beliefs, category: Meatballs. A meatball should be tender; even delicate. It should have a base of beef and pork, lightened with herbs and lemon, splashed with dairy, and should have a little underlying spicy note. It should be smaller than a baseball, but larger than a ping pong ball. Most of what is necessary to achieve the meatball of your dreams is already in your pantry. Except for the meat and dairy. Do not keep that in your pantry, please.
I use equal parts beef and pork in my meatball recipe. I tend to use 80/20 beef, because I like the fat. I have a few hard and fast rules in my kitchen, but this is not one of them. If the 90/10 is on sale, use that. If there’s a “meatloaf blend” of beef, pork, and veal, this is perfectly acceptable.
I’ve used both whole milk and buttermilk throughout my meatball-making years, and flavor-wise I believe that buttermilk is superior. You can’t distinctly pick out the tang of the buttermilk in the meatball, but you know it’s in there, fleshing out the other flavors.
Tuck this trick into your tool belt: always cook up a little meatball mix patty before forming the balls. The cooked patty will let you know how the final meatball will taste. This might be the most crucial step of the whole process, because no amount of salting the formed meatballs will correct an under-seasoned paté. A meatball patty snack gives you a chance to adjust the salt, black pepper, chili flake to exactly what you want before you proceed with the forming.
The versatility of meatballs is really their selling point. Sometimes I truly hanker for classic spaghetti and meatballs. Perfectly cooked store-bought spaghetti finished in a simple tomato sauce, piled high, topped with three balls and a mountain of cheese. It’s what Sunday night dreams are made of. Or mine, at least. But meatballs can make a heartier sauce too. Crush up meatballs into the sauce they simmer in, add a glug of red wine and a sprig of rosemary. After a little simmer, you have yourself an easy meatball ragu that’s perfect for a nice tagliatelle or pappardelle.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout-out to the meatball sub. Here’s how I build mine. I start by sauteing some chopped, steamed broccoli with garlic and a squeeze of lemon. I load on the meatballs and cheese. Then give it a final sizzle under the broiler, and top with some chopped banana peppers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying sandwich on a cold day.
But my favorite way to eat these meatballs is also the easiest. Served up in a bowl, with a dollop of good whole milk ricotta. That’s an entire meal! At least in my kitchen, it is. One that’s often eaten standing at the counter.
Meatballs freeze incredibly well. I pack mine into quart containers with their accompanying sauce. As with all leftovers, I try to freeze them with serving portions in mind. So, groups of 6 or 8 meatballs to feed Andrew and me. If you are blessed with a large freezer, and often feed a crowd, pick up a couple of disposable tins from the grocery store with the lids. Freeze the meatballs and sauce right in the tins. You can go straight from the freezer to the oven like your name is Miss Stouffer.
If I have the forethought, I’ll take a frozen quart of meatballs and toss it in the fridge to defrost for the next day. But I’m rarely blessed with that forethought, so I run the container under hot water until I can slide the meat-ice block into a baking dish. Then I cover it with foil and warm the meatballs in a 350-degree oven. You might need to add some water depending on the volume of sauce accompanying the balls. But you already did most of the work. Congratulations.