When I think of a good meatball, I think of the platterful that I devoured at my graduation party in a nice little Italian restaurant in my hometown. They were perfect! They were juicy, tender, and had an amazing meaty flavor.
Ever since that party, it has taken a lot more that a bag of frozen meatballs to satisfy this foodie! I went on a quest to find the perfect recipe. Of the million recipes I tried, none of them quite met my standards. They were either too dry, not flavorful enough, or too flavorful in the WRONG direction!
Eventually, I had a breakthrough! The flavor was spot on after a making small adjustments a couple of times until it was spot on. Everything was there. The flavor, the juiciness, and most importantly, the tenderness. So, what makes a meatball tender? It’s all about the ingredients, and how they work together.
The meat used obviously plays a large role in the meatballs, so it’s important to get the mixture right. By mixing pork and beef, you get the best of both meats for texture and flavor. The beef has great flavor, but can be a little chewy, while the pork (especially from the shoulder) has a nice tender texture.
If you wanted to be fancy, you could use lamb too. That would add depth of both flavor and texture.
For this recipe you will need olive oil, onion, carrot, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, heavy cream, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, ground beef, ground pork, 2 large eggs, fine fresh breadcrumbs, chopped fresh parsley, chopped fresh oregano, and some grated Parmesan cheese.
Start by heating a little bit of oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, chopped carrot, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and translucent. This will take about 10–15 minutes.
Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of the cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; season with salt and pepper. Simmer while you form the meatballs.
Make a panade by mixing together the ½ cup of cream, and ½ cup of breadcrumbs in a small bowl, and letting it sit for 5 minutes. Add beef, pork, eggs, the panade, parsley, oregano, and 1 teaspoon of salt to a large stainless steel bowl.
Using your hands, combine the meatball ingredients. Alternatively, you could use a fork, but your hands are truly the best tool for the job.
Keep working the mixture until it is evenly combined. For the best flavor and juiciness, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about 24 hours. If you can’t swing that, try to at least let it rest for an hour or two.
This allows the moisture to make its way into the the breadcrumbs and dried herbs to help the moisture stay in while cooking.
Form mixture into 1½”- diameter balls, packing fairly firmly (you should have about 26). A spring loaded scoop is the best tool for even meatballs, but of course you can just eyeball it and use your hands. Pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes to help them hold their shape.
Add meatballs to sauce, cover pot, and simmer on LOW until the meatballs are cooked through and very tender, 40–45 minutes. Serve topped with a generous amount of Parmesan.
There are so many ways to enjoy your tender meatballs! Park them on a bed of pasta, toss them in a salad, eat them as an appetizer on toothpicks, pair them with cheesy pepperoni garlic knots, float them in soup, or just eat them with your fingers in the middle of the night, standing by the open fridge. No judgement!
Beef Mortadella Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of cream
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground beef, preferably chuck
- ½ pound ground pork
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- Parmesan cheese (for serving)
Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, and celery; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and translucent, 10–15 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of the cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; season with salt and pepper. Simmer while you form the meatballs.
Make a panade by mixing the breadcrumbs and ½ cup of cream, and letting it sit five minutes. Using a fork or your hands, mix beef, pork, eggs, the panade, parsley, oregano, and 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl until evenly combined. Form mixture into 1½”- diameter balls, packing fairly firmly (you should have about 26). Pop the meatballs in the freezer for 15 minutes to help them hold their shape.
Add meatballs to sauce, cover pot, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through and very tender, 40–45 minutes.
Serve topped with a generous amount of Parmesan.
- Meatballs (without cheese) can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Reheat gently in sauce before serving.
How will you enjoy your tender meatballs?