The meatball recipe comes from Cook’s Country, the same people behind America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated which I love. I’ve tried lots of Italian meatball recipes but I like theirs the best. The best thing about this recipe? The meatballs are baked, not pan fried. I personally hate pan frying meatballs. It’s so time consuming making sure that each individual ball is browned all over. With baking, you just pop them into the oven and the work is done. No fuss, no muss. No fear of hot oil spraying up at you when you turn the meatballs over. Using the baking method, you don’t have to worry about flipping them. Just put them in the oven and forget about them for the next 20 minutes.
And if you think that baking them means that the meatballs come out dry, you couldn’t be more wrong! The half pound of Italian sausage and milk-soaked bread that’s required for the recipe are the “moist makers” (there’s a Friends reference for ya), ensuring that the end result is rich, moist and flavorful.
I’ve typed up the recipe for anyone interested. It includes a recipe for marinara sauce but in a rush any store-bought jar of spaghetti sauce can be substituted.
The meatballs and sauce both use the same onion mixture.
1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions , chopped fine
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
4 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaf
1-2 teaspoons sugar , as needed
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread
3/4 cup milk
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage , casings removed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck (80 percent lean)
1. For the onion mixture: Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onions until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer half of onion mixture to large bowl and set aside.
2. For the marinara: Add tomato paste to remaining onion mixture in pot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in water and tomatoes and simmer over low heat until sauce is no longer watery, 45 to 60 minutes. Stir in cheese and basil and adjust seasonings with salt and sugar.
3. For the meatballs: Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Mash bread and milk in bowl with reserved onion mixture until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, except ground beef, to bowl and mash to combine. Add beef and knead with hands until well combined. Form mixture into 2 1/2-inch meatballs (you should have about 16 meatballs), place on rimmed baking sheet, and bake until well browned, about 20 minutes.
4. Transfer meatballs to pot with sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes. Serve over pasta. (Meatballs and marinara can be frozen for up to 1 month.)
You’re looking at the recipe and thinking, “Woah, 10 cloves?! That’s a massive amount of garlic!” Trust me, it makes a great meatball. Instead of mincing the garlic with a knife, I suggest using a very fine grater. I personally hate getting chunks or pieces of garlic in my mouth. Grating ensures that the garlic is uniform and incorporates into the meat mixture more fully. You’ll still get the garlic flavor, but neither you nor your guests will be biting into garlic pieces.
BIG TIP: Definitely line your baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil. A combination of oil (from the meat and cheese) and meat juices will be released during the cooking process and, if you don’t use foil, it’ll harden and bake right into the pan. Trust me, you don’t want to have to scrape off all that greasy, crusty mess later on. Use the foil and it’ll save you a lot of pain and aggravation.