My Classic Meatballs and Marinara

Meatballs: I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who doesn’t like them. My daughter—who can sometimes be quite picky—has loved them since she was old enough to chew, even requesting them for two of her birthday party meals—so much better than pizza! I made these a couple weeks ago on a night each of my kids had a friend sleeping over (it wasn’t as scary as it sounds). 4 kids with clean plates: if that doesn’t sell my recipe I don’t know what will.

Unsurprisingly, I always make mine a little differently, but I finally wrote down my ingredients, and I actually used measuring devices this time! This is my “classic” version. Just a really good, moist, flavorful Italian meatball. Comforting and familiar—the kind of food people want to eat.

I often make them with turkey to lighten things up, or for my friends who don’t eat pork. There are some great Italian turkey sausages out there, and you’re not sacrificing any flavor if you choose to use turkey, but these are the real deal: beef, pork, and Italian sausage. You can substitute whatever meat you like, just make sure the total amounts are the same: two pounds of turkey, one pound of turkey Italian sausage; two pounds beef, one pound sausage; you get the idea. I really, really like the sausage addition—turkey or pork. It adds so much flavor, but if you aren’t a fan of sausage you could omit it and just replace it with a pound of something else. Use this recipe as a guideline, and experiment to find your classic.

This is a very large recipe. Because I like this meat combo, and it’s kind of hard to find any ground meat in less than 1 pound packages, I just go for it and make a huge batch. I cook what I need, and freeze the rest on sheet trays, then transfer them to resealable plastic bags. They are a great thing to have in my arsenal, and I cook them right from the freezer—either browning them slowly or adding them straight to simmering sauce. That’s my kind of frozen convenience food.

A funny thing about this recipe—most meatball recipes, really—is that it’s basically a meatloaf. You could take this exact mixture, form it into a loaf (or two) and bake it: Italian meatloaf! That might sound a little nutty, but that’s how I cook, and how my mind works in the kitchen. I love having recipes, but I really love when they’re versatile enough that I can let my imagination loose on them. Here’s my recipe; I hope you love it.

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Classic Italian Meatballs

(Makes approximately 60 medium-sized meatballs)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano–grated
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano–grated (alternatively, you can use a full cup of either cheese, rather than the mixture)
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion–grated or very finely minced
  • 3 cloves garlic–minced
  • 1 cup dry seasoned Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 cup milk
  • handful of parsley–chopped (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • tablespoon dried oregano
  • tablespoon fresh rosemary–finely chopped

To prepare: In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the meat. Mix well to combine. You will have a very wet mixture. Add the meats, and mix really well to completely combine. I use my hands and squish away until it becomes one homogenous mixture. I can’t stand meatballs that have big chunks of ingredients that weren’t mixed through properly. So, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, now is the time to use them!

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You can make your meatballs any size you like, I use a medium sized ice cream scoop, which makes meatballs a little smaller than a golf ball. (Side note: this scoop is one of the most versatile tools in my kitchen. I use it for cookies, muffins, meatballs, sliders. One of my favorites). Portion out what you want to cook and in a large skillet, melt a couple tablespoons of butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add the meatballs.

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Brown on all sides. At this point, you can either use your own sauce or a good jarred marinara. If you want to make your own sauce, remove the browned meatballs to a plate or bowl and follow my recipe below.

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If you use a jarred sauce, just pour it in with the browned meatballs (if you have lots of fat in the pan remove it before adding the sauce), and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Then serve with spaghetti, or your favorite noodle, lots of grated parmigiano, and really good bread.

Quick Marinara

(enough for 30 meatballs and 1 lb of spaghetti)

Ingredients:

  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/2 onion–chopped (I use the other 1/2 of the onion from making the meatballs)
  • 2 garlic cloves–minced
  • teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • tablespoon of sugar
  • teaspoon salt

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To Prepare: Saute onion in the same pan you removed the meatballs from, (if you haven’t just made meatballs, just cook the onion in some olive oil). Cook until softened, about 5 minutes, and add salt, garlic, red pepper, oregano and cook another 30 seconds. If using the wine, add it now and allow to bubble for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes, water or stock, and sugar. Add the meatballs back to the sauce, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.

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