It’s mid-October and there is finally a chill in the air on the mountain, which has me wanting comfort food. One dish that immediately comes to mind is this easy Italian meatballs recipe. Tender, juicy Italian meatballs, simmered in a rich tomato sauce with pasta is the ultimate comfort food. I am practically drooling just thinking about them.
There are so many recipes out there for Italian meatball. If you Google “Italian meatballs”, you will see a whole list of the best meatball recipes made from recipes handed down by Italian grandmothers, with varying ingredients from the types of meat to the different types of cheeses, type of breadcrumbs, and even the types of herbs used. It’s really overwhelming just how many recipes there are for Italian meatballs.
I have broken down the basics of Italian meatball making and I am going to share with you a simple recipe that uses the most common meatball ingredients: a 50/50 blend of pork and beef, bread crumbs, shallots, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and herbs.
If you have been trying to find a really good meatball recipe, start with this one! I promise these Italian meatballs will be some of the best damn meatballs you’ll ever make! I know this because David hasn’t stopped talking about them since I made them.
These Italian meatballs are as David says: “slap your grandmama good!”
So, let’s get down the basics of these easy Italian meatballs…
For this meatball recipe, I used a mixture of equal parts pork and beef. I chose a hot Italian sausage and ground chuck. Adding hot Italian sausage is my new thing when making an Italian meat sauce for just about everything. Not only does the Italian sausage provide flavor, but the sausage also provides more fat for the meatballs to give them added moisture. The end result is tender juicy meatballs packed with spice and flavor.
I know, the what?!? What is a panade? A panade is a culinary term which refers to a 50/50 mixture of starch and liquid that is added to ground meat to help bind it together and prevent the meat proteins from shrinking and becoming tough.
This is where breadcrumbs come into play. Meatball recipes typically call for some type of starch, usually breadcrumbs, but the starch doesn’t have to be breadcrumbs. The starch could be panko or even cracker crumbs. The starch is then mixed with a liquid, which can be milk, yogurt, meat stock or water. Regardless, of how the panade is made, using panade instead of dried breadcrumbs will make the meatballs less dense and more tender.
For this recipe, I used one cup of bread cut into cubes and one cup of milk. I tossed the bread in the milk and allowed it to sit for about 5 minutes to absorb the milk.
To be honest, I didn’t even use fancy bread, just three or four pieces of torn up loaf bread we had in the pantry. I like the consistency of using
As far as flavor goes, the meatballs are off to a good start with the hot Italian sausage. I tried to give the meatballs more balanced flavor by adding in raw shallots. I chose raw shallots because of the texture they bring to the meatballs, not to mention the sweet mild flavor they have without the bite you typically get from a yellow or white onion. Together, shallots and garlic provide a savory sweet contrast which
Salt is very important when making meatballs, if there isn’t enough added, the meatballs will be bland and lifeless. However, you have to be very careful when adding a salty cheese like Parmesan. Usually, a good rule of thumb is to season with half the amount of salt you normally would when using Parmesan cheese. Usually
It’s important to know that when adding an egg to the meatballs just because they are slimy and gooey does not mean you are adding more moisture. On the contrary, the egg acts a glue that binds everything together and keeps all the ingredients from falling apart. You should never need more than one to two eggs in any meatball recipe. If you add too much egg the meatballs will be dense and spongy. Start with one and if the meatballs seem to fall apart when shaping, add in another one. Usually one is plenty.
To assemble the meatballs, add all the ingredients to the bowl at the same time and use clean, wet hands to mix the meatball mixture. Mix lightly with your hands to incorporate all the ingredients, but do not over mix or squeeze the meat too hard. Overworking the meat will cause the meatballs to be tough.
Once the meatball mixture is well incorporated, use a two-inch scoop to form (24) 2-inch meatballs. There’s no law that says you have to have exactly twenty-four 2-inch meatballs. Make them any size you want, but make sure they are equal in
TIP: Use wet hands! The water will repel oils from the meat allowing you to mix without getting the ingredients stuck all onto your hands.
Cooking & Simmering
The Maillard Reaction is the reaction that comes from the heating of amino acids, found in protein, and sugar. This reaction gives browned foods their desirable flavor, so ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS sear your meatballs and give them a nice brown crust, before braising!
You can brown the meatballs in a skillet, but I find that it takes a while I have found that the quickest and easiest way to consistently cook meatballs is to bake them in a preheated 400 degree F oven, until nice and golden; about 20 to 30 minutes.
When the meatballs are nice and golden brown, remove them from the oven and drop them into your favorite tomato sauce to braise for at least 20 minutes and not a minute less. Don’t worry, it is really hard to overcook meatballs when they are in the sauce.
Serve the meatballs over pasta, with extra parmesan cheese, and fresh basil, or even topped on a big sub roll. Yum!
[CLICK HERE] To read more about browning meat and why you shouldn’t overcrowd the pan.
Freezing, Defrosting & Reheating
These meatballs are the perfect make-ahead dish for freezing! You can freeze them either uncooked or cooked, for up to three to four months, while cooked ground beef is safe for two to three months.
To Freeze Uncooked Meatballs:
Simply line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the meatballs on the prepared cookie sheet and pop them into the freezer for about one to two hours (set a timer so you don’t forget them). When the meatballs are frozen, remove the sheet when the meatballs are frozen and transfer them to freezer-safe zip-top bags or containers.
To Freeze Cooked Meatballs:
Allow the cooked meatballs to cool slightly, then freeze them immediately.
To Defrost & Reheat Uncooked Meatballs:
Remove the package of frozen meatballs from the freezer the day before you are ready to cook them and place the frozen package of meatballs in the refrigerator to defrost overnight. Then cook as directed in this recipe.
Empty the frozen meatballs into a microwave safe dish and defrost according to microwave settings, then cook immediately. However, I don’t like defrosting meat in the microwave, because I find it hard not to cook the meat regardless of what settings I use.
To Defrost & Reheat Cooked Meatballs:
If you’ve frozen meatballs with sauce, reheat the meatballs in sauce in the oven or in a skillet on the stove top.
So, there you have it. These easy Italian meatballs are really simple to make using basic ingredients for the most well-balanced meatballs you’ll ever put in your mouth!
I hope that you find this Italian meatball recipe as easy and delicious as we do!
Easy Baked Italian Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
- 1 cup bread cubes 3 slices of loaf bread
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 shallot minced
- ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan fresh grated
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Add the bread cubes to a saucer and pour the milk over them. Toss the bread cubes to coat in milk; set aside at least 5-minutes while the bread absorbs the milk.
- Next chop the shallot, garlic, and parsley. After they are chopped lightly squeeze out the excess milk from the bread cubes.
- Assemble the meatballs:
- Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Mix the meatball mixture lightly with clean, wet hands to incorporate all the ingredients. Do not over mix or squeeze the meat too hard. Overworking the meat will cause the meatballs to be tough.
- After the meatball mixture is well incorporated, use a two-inch scoop to form (24) 2-inch meatballs. (There’s no law that says you have to have exactly twenty-four 2-inch meatballs. Make them any size you want, but make sure they are equal in size so that they cook consistently.)
- Place the meatballs on a broiling pan or foil-lined sheet pan. Place the pan of meatballs into the oven and bake, until lightly crisp and golden brown; about 20 to 30 minutes.
- When the meatballs are nice and golden brown, remove them from the oven and drop them into your favorite tomato sauce to braise for at least 20 minutes and not a minute less. Don’t worry, it is really hard to overcook meatballs when they are in the sauce.
- Serve the meatballs over pasta, with extra parmesan cheese, and fresh basil, or even topped on a big sub roll. Yum!