A good, basic meatball recipe
Meatballs are a ubiquitous staple of the global menu, be it Turkish Koftas or Spanish Albóndigas they feature in some guise in the cuisine of practically every country, even a trip to Ikea can’t be considered a success without having tasted some Swedish Köttbullar!
The universal popularity of the meatball is easy to understand, they are economical, versatile, incredibly easy to make and yes, delicious!
This is my go-to, everyday meatball in tomato sauce recipe, nothing fancy or particularly innovative about it, but it is foolproof and tasty. I hesitated about whether to post it, does the world really need yet another meatball recipe?
Pellegrino Artusi, the “father of Italian cuisine” wrote back in 1891“Non crediate che io abbia la pretensione d’insegnarvi a far le polpette. Questo è un piatto che tutti lo sanno fare cominciando dal ciuco” which translates as “Don’t think I’m pretentious enough to teach you how to make meatballs. This is a dish that everybody can make, starting with the donkey.”
That being said I had a request for a quick and easy meatball recipe, so here it is!
The perfect meatball must be well flavoured but also tender and juicy. Breadcrumbs soaked in milk and finely minced pancetta are your key allies in this regard. The breadcrumbs lighten the mixture keeping your meatballs tender, whilst the fat from the pancetta renders during the cooking process and prevents them from drying out.
How you blend your meatball ingredients is another important consideration – overworking the meat will compact it, leaving you with a tough, dense meatball, so you need to be delicate when mixing and rolling your meatball mixture.
If you have the time it’s best to make your meatballs a couple of hours in advance and leave them to rest in the fridge. This gives them time to firm up and lets the flavours have a little time to get to know each other, but is by no means essential. I made this batch in a rush after work and they went straight into the oven with no resting time.
In terms of flavouring I like to keep it quite simple – garlic, fennel, parsley, nutmeg and an umami turbo charge of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Finally there is the question of how to serve your meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic of the Italian-American cannon of course, entrenched in our collective consciousness through pop culture whether it’s Lady and the Tramp or Goodfellas.
Italians would no doubt shudder at the thought and would be more likely to utilise the tomato sauce with pasta, whilst the meatballs themselves would be served for the Secondo.
On this occasion we did a bit of both, on the first night we had the sauce folded through some Tagliatelle with some shredded mozzarella, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little chilli oil and a couple of meatballs as in the picture at the top of the page.
On the second night we had them with tenderstem broccoli and mashed potatoes let down to a puree like consistency with sour cream and extra virgin olive oil.
However you choose to serve your meatballs, I hope you enjoy them.
Cooking time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 portions
For the Meatballs:
500g minced beef
300g minced pork
100g Pancetta, thinly sliced
50g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Tbsp ground Fennel seeds
2 Tsp dried oregano
1 Small bunch curly leaf parsley
3 garlic cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
For the sauce:
4 tbsp olive oil
1 Onion, finely chopped
3 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tsp dried chilli flakes
5 or 6 fresh tomatoes, desseded and roughly chopped
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
Small bunch of basil
A splash of Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve (optional):
Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the meatballs:
Soak the breadcrumbs in milk for 5 mins. Squeeze out the excess milk, place in a mixing bowl with all of the other meatball ingredients except the oil and the mince. Give everything a really good mix.
Add the beef and pork mince to the bowl and as gently as possible mix to incorporate with the rest of the ingredients.
Pour the oil into an oven proof dish large enough to accommodate all of your meatballs.
Delicately roll the meatballs into balls roughly the size of golf balls. Place them in a single layer in the roasting tray and refrigerate for a couple of hours if you have the time.
Prepare the sauce:
Finely dice the onion and garlic. Heat the olive oil over a medium low heat and add your onion, garlic and chilli flakes. Sweat them gently for around 10 mins, being careful not to let them colour too much.
Deseed your tomatoes, roughly chop and add them to the saucepan, turn the heat up to medium and cook them down until a good amount of their water has evaporated. Add the tins of plum tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, basil, sugar, salt and pepper, stir well and simmer, partially covered over a gentle heat for 30 mins. Blitz with a stick blender to a smooth, thick sauce. Check the seasoning and acidity and adjust accordingly. Set aside.
Prepare the finished dish:
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Put your meatballs into the oven and bake for 20 mins. After 20 mins turn the meatballs and pour your prepared sauce over the top and bake for a further 15 mins covered in foil, remove the foil and bake uncovered for a further 10 mins. Remove from the oven and allow to relax and cool a little before serving.
Serve as you wish, we normally go for pasta, polenta or mashed potatoes as an accompaniment and garnish with a few torn basil leaves, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a little drizzle of chilli oil to finish.
Some additional thoughts on meatballs:
I hope you enjoyed this recipe before I leave the topic however it would be remiss of me not to mention some of our other favourite meatball recipes, so in no particular order, here are our top 5, I urge you to give them all a try:
- Paula Wolfert’s Kefta Tagine
- Nigel Slater’s Pork and lemon meatballs
- Nigel Slater’s Hot Chicken Cakes*
- Luke Nguyen’s Chargrilled pork patties with Vietnamese herbs (bun cha) (VIDEO)
- Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi’s Kofta b’siniyah
*Having written about them I then had to go and make a batch straight away! They’re so moreish and make such a simple dinner with a few chargrilled vegetables and some pesto mayonnaise.
If you are really pushed for time and just need to get something on the table in a flash here are some 1 ingredient ideas to pep up your mince to make for a more interesting meatball:
- Chicken Mince: Add Basil or Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
- Lamb Mince: Add Rose Harrisa
- Pork Mince: Add Red Thai curry paste
- Beef mince: Add Chipotle Paste
- White Fish: Pulse briefly in a food processor with Chermoula
- Prawns: Pulse briefly in a food processor with Green Thai curry paste