I’m always skeptical when a food magazine touts that they have found ‘The Best’ anything so when I read Molly Wizenberg’s (writer of the blog Orangette) article In Search of the Perfect Meatball in October’s Bon Appétit I knew I had to put her claim to the test.
I have made a few different meatball recipes in the past but all have been oven baked. My mom has always baked hers and they are amazing so I have never tried to make them any other way. When I read about Molly’s search for the perfect meatball I realized that this lady clearly knows her meatballs and might be worth trusting, despite the fact that she was describing ways of cooking meatballs that I had never even considered. Molly claimed to have found a nearly perfect meatball at Seattle’s Cafe Lag0 – not only that, but she was able to get and share their family meatball recipe. I was intrigued by this recipe because you cook the meatballs in the sauce on the stove and because the sauce has a stick of butter in it – something I have never used in a red sauce before. The ingredients are all pretty simple – so simple that the sauce contains only canned whole tomatoes (with juices), 2 onions, and a stick of butter. I thought that surely it would need some other herbs but as it turned out, the meatballs added all the flavor that the sauce needed.
According to Molly, the secret to the meatball texture is to mix the mixture of meat, cheese, bread crumbs, herbs, and eggs with your hands but the key is to shape your hands like claws and twist them around the mixture until it is just blended. Sounded far-fetched but I gave it a try.
They turned out so well that I was surprised I had made them myself! We served the meatballs over a bed of fresh herbed pasta with grated parmesan cheese and a bottle of Sangiovese. The meatballs were rich, cheesy, and had the perfect amount of moisture, which I assume came from cooking them in the sauce on the stove rather than baking them. I couldn’t help myself from over eating on Saturday night…and again on Sunday for lunch. This recipe is now officially my ‘go to’ meatball recipe and Molly was right – I do feel ‘set for life’ now that I have a great meatball in my repertoire.
Here’s the recipe – I highly recommend giving this a try with fresh pasta, which took it to a whole new level. Don’t be fooled by the long list of ingredients – it’s very simple to make!
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit (October 2010)
- 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 medium onions, peeled, halved through root end
- 1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread (I turned herbed croutons into bread crumbs)
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
- 8 ounces ground pork
- 1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese (I finely grated mine using a box grater)
- 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large garlic cloves, pressed
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
- Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions. Using immersion blender (I was able to just use a fork and wisk to achieve the consistency that I needed), process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (texture should be even but not completely smooth). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.
- Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.
- Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground/finely grated Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture.
- Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk (I wasn’t able to get any milk out). Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined using ‘the claw’ technique (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
- Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs (not necessary), then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (mine were a little larger so I cooked for 30 min). DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.
- Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.
- Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to platter. Add pasta to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Divide pasta among 6 plates. Top each serving with meatballs. Sprinkle meatballs with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.