We buy our meat in bulk – whole cows and pigs from local farmers. So we often have quite a bit of ground beef and/or pork in the freezer because we have the butcher grind up the leftovers after the normal cuts are removed. Having lots of local ground beef/pork in the freezer is a good problem to have in my book, mostly because it cooks quickly and makes for some easy meals. One our go-to uses for ground meat is meatballs. We put them on pizza, stuff them in stromboli (recipe to come), and, of course, just throw them on some pasta. The boys in the house like just eating them plain with some barbecue sauce too. I like to make them in big batches and then freeze the rest for an extra quick and easy meal on a busy night.
So do yourself a favor and make some meatballs soon!
Meatballs and Red Sauce
Very loosely adapted from Dinner A Love Story
For the meatballs:
2 pounds ground beef or pork (I think it tastes best to do half ground beef and half ground pork)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 cup bread crumbs (I usually make my own, or I sometimes use panko breadcrumbs instead just to spice things up with a little crunchier texture)
1 cup shredded Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
For the sauce (this is my go-to red sauce, after many years of tweaking):
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced (depends on how much you like garlic)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 tsp marjoram
Pinch of rosemary
1 tsp sugar or honey or (my favorite) local maple syrup
1/2 cup red wine
1 small can tomato paste
Salt and pepper
Start on the sauce first. In a Dutch oven, saute onion and a few red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium low heat until onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and remaining herbs and saute just until fragrant. Add wine and cook for a minute or two on medium-high heat. Add tomato paste and sugar/honey/maple syrup and stir. Fill empty tomato paste can with water twice (i.e. two cans of water) and add to pot, stirring until mixed, another 1-2 minutes. Turn heat down to simmer while you make the meatballs (this gets better the longer it simmers, but if it gets too thick for your taste, just add a bit more water).
Now get to work on the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients. Mix together with hands (this is a good job for a willing toddler) until thoroughly combined. Roll into balls and set aside on a plate. Here you have two options:
- The traditional method is to heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Then brown the meatballs in batches (you want to make sure each meatball has enough room) over medium heat, rotating as each side browns/crisps up, until In a large skillet, add a big glug of olive oil. Begin browning meatballs, in batches, over medium high heat, turning frequently. Remove when browned on all sides. When all the meatballs are browned, add them to the sauce, as well as the drippings from your skillet, and continue cooking over low heat for at least 30 minutes.
- I sometimes double this recipe for a crowd or if I’m making meals for other people (meatballs freeze beautifully, so they are great to have on hand in the freezer). If I make it when we’re having people over, it’s a total pain because I pretty much have to be beside the stove while I cook all of the meatballs, which isn’t all that conducive for hostessing. Cook’s Illustrated tackled this problem a few years ago (I can’t find the specific issue, so forgive me) and tested out several methods to see if they could make the process a little easier and less messy without losing that crispy meatball texture. Their genius solution was to roast the meatballs on wire racks in a hot oven. The wire racks enable the meatballs to be cooked on all sides, without the bottoms burning. Here’s what you do: preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub olive oil on the wire racks, and then place your meatballs on the wire racks and your wire racks on a baking sheet to catch the drippings. Roast until browned, about 30 minutes. Rotate the racks/baking sheets about halfway through to ensure that the meatballs are cooked evenly. I love this method because it’s so easy and turns out really delicious meatballs, but, if it’s just us for dinner, I typically stick to the skillet method. It seems to have just a bit meatier flavor, probably because I can catch all of those pan drippings from the meatballs and dump them into the sauce.
As I mentioned above, we use these for all sorts of things: I put them on some pizza dough and use the sauce (I use less water in the red sauce recipe for a thicker sauce if I’m putting it on pizza), meatballs, spinach or kale, and some cheese for the toppings. We usually have some leftover meatballs whenever I make them, so we just throw those on some bread with some mozzarella cheese and throw it under the broiler for a few minutes. And, of course, they’re delicious with some pasta!