Classic Meatballs

My culinary pursuits are largely driven by what I feel like eating. Meatballs almost never fall into that category. My little guy requested spaghetti with meatballs for his fifth birthday dinner, so it was time I learn how to make them. Most recipes I came across called for a combination of beef, pork and veal. I decided to stick with just beef for this recipe and still dared to call them “classic.” Whatever.

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (see tips)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, see tips)
  • 1/2 cup water, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (see tips)
  • In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper and cheese. Blend with a fork until well combined. Fold in the panko, then add the water a little at a time. You may not need it all, so go slowly. The mixture should be fairly wet and easily malleable.
  • Using clean hands, form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will get about 14 to 16 meatballs.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. Swirl the pan to distribute the hot oil evenly. Place the meatballs in the hot oil, taking care not to burn yourself as it sputters. Turn the meatballs until all sides are nicely browned.
  • While the meatballs are frying, pour the marinara sauce in a shallow baking dish. Remove the browned meatballs from the pan and place them in the baking dish. They should be browned on the outside but not cooked through. You will finish cooking them in the oven.
  • Bake the meatballs in sauce for 20 minutes. The sauce should be bubbly along the edges and the meatballs fully cooked.
  • Serve alone, over pasta or in sub rolls.
  • Quick Tips
  • 1. I said lean ground beef but not too skinny, people! Try for 80 to 85 percent lean. You need a bit of fat and flavor here especially since we are relying on the beef to carry the full weight here. No pork or veal to help round out the meatiness!
  • 2. You are probably wondering why I’ve added Japanese breadcrumbs to a classic Italian dish. I like the crunch of panko, which is great for breading chicken and fish. It creates a very crispy outer layer when you bake or pan sauté. In this case, the crunch is gone when you add the water. The truth? It’s what I had on hand! Feel free to try this recipe with regular breadcrumbs. They’ll probably work even better.
  • 3. You are also probably wondering about the water. This is a trick I picked up while scanning through recipes to get an idea of what to do. Rao’s, the very famous Italian eatery in New York City, uses this trick for their meatballs. They use equal parts fresh bread crumbs and water to infuse moisture into their meatballs. I thought it seemed like a good idea! If you want to use fresh breadcrumbs, use a full cup and gradually add more water a little at a time until the meat is very tender and can be easily shaped into balls.
  • 4. It’s easy to make your own marinara sauce, but I didn’t in this case. I used Rao’s bottled sauce for ease. It’s delicious. If you have a favorite, use it. If you make your own, then good for you (and please share your recipe!).

Preparation time: 40 minute(s)
Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

2 responses to “Classic Meatballs”

  1. Christy Freese says:

    My kids love meatballs and I have never made them. I will give it a try! I asked a local real estate agent for $500 to sponser a Parent Ed event that I am planning and she said “yes”. I just picked up the check this morning. Easy!

  2. Kate Schoyer says:

    Alicia!! I had earmarked this recipe in my mind as my kids love meatballs and the frozen, grocery store ones always gross me out a bit. I tried these and they are delicious! I ran out of time, so didn’t even brown them, and I used my spice cabinet dried parsley and oregano (so they probably weren’t even full potential). But we all loved them and I will definitely make them again. They probably will be part of our regular “rotation!” and can easily be prepared in advance. Hope all is well and hi to Andy. xoxo YK

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