I’ve now been eating meat again for about a year. Don’t ask, it’s a long story.
To make it short, I’ve been cooking a lot more in 2013, trying out all kinds of yummy recipes involving meat and fish. Which was one of the main reasons why I started eating meat again, to broaden my cooking horizon.
One thing I’ve looked into early on, and I blame a visit to New York in January for this, we’re meatballs. Delicious meatballs in tomato sauce. I’ve heard so much about them, and I regret not going to the little hole-in-the-wall in manhattan called “Meatball Obsession”.
Even though I didn’t eat there, the little shop left a long lasting impression on me. I saw a few Le Creuset pots stewing delicious meatballs in the back of the shop.
I had to try making them myself immediately. First thing I bought in our new apartment (oh hey, we moved last year!) was a big Le Creuset pot for making goulash, boeuf bourguignon, fricasset and, most importantly, meatballs.
I found a recipe that served as a nice base, but it does one thing wrong: the cooking time.
I found that the secret to juicy and tasty meatballs is to stew the sauce and the meat as long as possible.
But then again, that’s the secret to getting meat right in general, isn’t it?
I’ve had years if practice making tomato sauce, so there’s a good start.
The first important step is to let the tomato sauce simmer for at least two hours. I buy canned tomatoes, and you can drain them of quite a bit of juice before cooking them, bit they still got lots of fluids in them.
Then the meatballs. Once they’re in, they only get better from stewing in the sauce with every hour they’re in. Ninety minutes of letting them simmer is the required minimum.
Freshly ground beef and pork (and believe me, you only want freshly ground meat) has a lot of fluid in it too. Once the meat is in for 45 minutes, that fluid will seep into the tomato sauce and needs to evaporate before serving.
But the fluids come with good news too. After a hour or so, the already tasty tomato sauce mixes with delicious flavors seeping in from the meatballs, turning this into the greatest simple meal I’ve enjoyed in 2013.
And when I say better, I mean wonderfully juicy and filled with delicious tomato sauce aroma.
I need to confess one thing upfront, before we dive in: I eat these meatballs as a main dish, usually without any sides, no pasta. Just some baguette or good German bread. Because the meatballs are just too good in their own, too frickin good.
Way too late into the year, I added cheese to the mix. You’ll have to forgive me, I was a vegetarian for 14 years and quite ignorant of cooking that involved meat.
Melted cheese is the literal icing on the meatball cake.
After some four hours of cooking, the last trip required for the meatballs involves 10 minutes in the oven, with cheese on top. The result just keeps blowing my mind.
The melted cheese is optional, and the meatballs are delicious on their own already. But those ten extra minutes will pay off big time and are sure to make you new friends.
Of course, these meatballs are awesome to eat the next day too. In fact, they get even better when they’re in the fridge for a day. I tend to cook a big pot every time, just so I have some leftovers for the next day(s).
Here are the ingredients (feeds four to six meatball enthusiasts):
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 3 28 oz cans of peeled tomatoes (yes, you need a lot of tomatoes!)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/3 cup of milk
- 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs
- Optional: shredded cheese, anything from Swiss to Emmentaler to Parmesan works
The tomato sauce
- Drain the fluids from the cans. Pour the tomatoes into a large pot, 24cm/9″ recommended. Squish them with your hands so you can nice and small chunks.
- Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of oregano and let it simmer for at least 2 hours, on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Leave the meat outside for some 30 minutes for it to get to room temperature. It’ll be easier to handle and also less cold for the mixing step.
- Add egg, milk, breadcrumbs, oregano, salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan to the meat in a large bowl. Knead the “dough” for some good five minutes.
- With your hands, roll meatballs with a diameter of about 5cm/2″. The size doesn’t really matter, they’ll be amazing anyway, but 5cm are a good size to aim for. You should get 20 to 25 meatballs from this recipe. Put them on no wet wooden board so they don’t stick.
- Drop the meatballs into the sauce, once by one. Make sure to cover most of them with sauce, but don’t force them into the sauce, at this point, they’re still pretty fragile little beings. If parts of them poke out of the sauce, no problem. After 20 minutes, you can give it a gentle stir to cover them fully.
- Leave to simmer for at least 90 minutes. If there’s still fluid on top of the sauce, leave them simmering for another 30 minutes. Really, you can’t go wrong letting these in the sauce for longer.
Melting cheese sensation (optional)
For this extra treat, a good Swiss cheese will do. Emmentaler works well, but anything tasty works.
- Put about six meatballs, covered with lots of tomato sauce, into little baking dishes.
- Cover with cheese (seriously, lots of cheese)
- Put in the oven, middle rack, and leave them in for at least 10 minutes at 220 degrees C or until the cheese is bubbling.
Whereas these are usually served on a sandwich or with pasta, I prefer to serve them as the main course. Some fresh bread will go nicely with them, but really well cooked meatballs speak for themselves.
Enjoy the best meatballs you’ll ever have!