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Delicious Italian Meatballs !!

I wanted to ask everyones advice on how to make italian meatballs. I have been tampering w recipes for some time now but can never get that delicious, perfectly flavored meatball (like the type you could put into a meatball sub). I wanted to know if anyone has any tricks or suggestions?

I used to use beef but found that it made an enormous difference when I mixed it w pork - have others found the same? Much more flavor. I add bread crumbs, an egg (not sure if I should though), onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt/pepper, italian herbs.

What else can I try? Is sauteing fresh onions and garlic and then folding it in to meat mixture worth it? I'm also going to try a turkey-pork mix to see how that goes.

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  1. I make meatballs like my mom and grandmother taught me. Ground beef (we grind our own chuck), seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (Progresso), salt, pepper, egg, milk, and lots of freshly ground pecorino romano. Then I brown them in olive oil and add to the sauce (when I make meatballs, I always make red sauce). I also bake Italian sausage in red wine, then add the cut up sausages along with the meatballs to the sauce for the last hour or two of simmering. But, from your above description, what's missing to me is the cheese. I think that's the key to having them taste great, and folks seem to love them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Niki in Dayton

      Cheese is what makes a good meatball better. You almost can't have enough. Not the stuff in the green can though!

      1. re: Niki in Dayton

        Almost exactly the way my Sardinian ancestors made it too. They also used to make their own pasta, the gnocchi was a treat !

      2. Do you mean ground pork, or ground Italian sausage? The latter makes a great meatball when mixed with ground chuck. You can sometimes find loose sausage meat but if not, just slice open the casing and peel it off (neater then trying to squeeze it out).
        Keep the egg (holds the meatball together) and bread crumbs. Use fresh minced onion and garlic - if you gently saute these before adding to the meat mix the flavor will be mellower. As for other seasonings, S&P for sure, with basil or oregano optional if already included in your tomato sauce. You can, optionally, brown them in a pan first, floured or not, or just put the raw meatballs into the gently simmering sauce. If the latter, don't stir until you've ascertained that they are cooked enough to stay in one piece.
        Turkey is very bland and very loose - harder to work with in making meatballs, and needs a heavier hand on seasoning. I'd stick with the beef/sausage mix.

        10 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Although the Italian Sausage idea sound intriguing, I prefer the sausage to be sausage when making a Sunday gravy....along with meatballs, spare ribs and braciole......however, I will try this next time I make sauce/gravy ....I am curious to see what the flavor and texture difference will be.

          My meatballs always consist of the following ingredients:

          Ground Beef
          Ground Pork
          Ground Veal
          Day old bread soaked in milk
          Salt and Pepper
          Large amount of Freshly Grated Cheese
          Freshly Chopped Italian Parsley
          Eggs
          Grated Onions and Garlic (very fine)

          I do not have the patience to fry the meatballs in a fry pan, so I always place them on a greased sheet pan and cook them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes @ 325* before transferring them to the sauce pot. I have also put the the raw meat directly into the sauce as well with positive results. One tip I read if your intent is to make large sized meatballs....is to place them into muffin pans to reduce the oil splatter. I believe I have also read on this site to include some water into the meatball mix for softer meatballs...although I have not tried this yet myself.

          For some variations, I also include Ricotta into the mix which makes a lighter meatball(not as firm or dense).....and sometimes a small cube of Mozzarella. I have made Ground Chicken and Turkey meatballs in the past and most times no one could tell any difference. i have never experienced the problem of them being loose myself.....I guess I have been fortunate....:-)

          1. re: fourunder

            Now _that_ is a meatball! Like your tip on baking in the oven rather than frying. I'd love to hear a little more about your gravy ingredients and the cuts of meat you use.

            1. re: Cpt Wafer

              Cpt Wafer,

              My Sunday Gravy recipe above is the basic foundation for my usual method, but it is not etched in stone. Truth be told, I never follow exact measurements or recipes, so the sauce is always a little bit different in terms of seasoning ingredients and the cuts of meat I use, based on what is on hand or what is available at the market (on sale).

              I do not know if it is a virtue or curse, but my background includes working in the restaurant and food industry..... Along with that comes a wealth of knowledge from Professional Chefs(too many ideas) which I have been privy too...and also, I have been able to purchase everything wholesale at reduced prices.....but for the home, buying wholesale other than at the holidays is excessive, so I do shop at supermarkets and in general, I prefer a rustic style of cooking for my home meals. What does this have to do with your query about (gray ingredients)? Shopping retail is very offensive to me...so I only purchase what is on sale on any given week to plan or prepare any meals. Seeing any premium beef cuts over $4.99/lb or chopped meat over $1.99/lb., pork cuts over $1.99/lb., or chicken over .79/lb. is hard for me to take.. Luckily for me I am able to use a knife and can butcher pretty well......and there are some Asian grocery stores with butchers and fish mongers where the prices are very reasonable. When purchasing ground meats, I always purchase the three meats individually and never in a meat loaf three pack mix. Generally, I purchase about 6-7 pounds total (2-3lbs beef, 2lbs pork and 2.lbs veal) which makes anywhere from 40-50 medium sized meatballs.

              Usually, when I make gravy, I make a large amount so I can have leftovers and have extra for my son to take home...as he is a single guy working very hard and does not have time to cook for himself. For tomatoes, I like to use San Marzano when available and two of my favorite brands are La Fede or Pastene...but I also like Cento and Pope too. If I cannot find them, I will use Contadina Crushed, which is the standard brand available at Costco. I use the equivalent of two number ten cans in a large pot and add the meats after they have been browned or not...depending on how lazy I am. The meats used are:

              beef, pork and veal
              pork braciole
              hot and sweet Italian sausage
              baby back spare ribs(first choice)
              st louis style ribs (second choice)

              variations will include:
              pork shank or butt
              pork shoulder
              Chicken carcass and/or dark meat

              My winter time sauces will include oxtails or short ribs for sure........ My sister-in-law's paternal grandmother(RIP), who was regarded as the absolute best Italian home cook. made her gravy with a whole chicken in addition to the pork choices....and her gravy was fantastic. iI would suggest you give this a try as well.

              As I mentioned above, the ultimate recipe used will depend on what is on hand or what is on sale at the market. The supermarket I frequent most usually has manager specials that are unadvertised in the weekly circular. For pork cuts, they will usually have either the pork shoulder(first choice) or fresh butt ham(second choice). or a pork loin roast with ribs. I usually will bone out one of the three and use the bone and some of the meat from them. In the case of the pork loin roast(which I will purchase two quantity of), it would save me on purchasing the ridiculously expensive back ribs(usually 5.99-7.99). I guess on reflecting, the shank and ribs from the loin roast are equal to the pork shoulder for preference...since they both have a good deal of marbling and the shank has the great connective cartilage/collagen. The shoulder and butt are almost always .99 or less and the pork loin roasts are usually from 1.49-1.99.....After boning out the loin roast, I will save the loin for another day...usually a low heat, slow roasted application for quick meals, i.e., slicing for add-ins or sandwiches.

            2. re: fourunder

              fourunder we make the same meatballs - love them with ricotta mixed in. I bake mine too with a little added beef broth, then pour some of the broth into the sauce. I substitute Italian sausage for the pork sometimes.

              1. re: bayoucook

                That's a good idea. I want to try this ricotta deal.

                1. re: bayoucook

                  bayoucook,

                  I am sure many others will try the (secret) to a very good meatball too. When making Chopped Steak, I knew a chef who included beef bouillon as seasoning. I will have to try your beef broth idea soon. Thanks.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Thanks, let me know. Got the tip about the broth from Cuisine mag.

                2. re: fourunder

                  Sounds wonderful! I use the same. I also make a ton, and then freeze them, 16 balls in a 1-quart ziploc, to have later.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Skip the onion, it makes them taste like meatloaf.

                    1. re: markjbillet

                      I can't seem to skip onion very often - love it. Added some ricotta cheese to my last batch and it made for a wonderful texture; gonna do that again.

                3. Pork is a must in the mixture. Between the pork and beef (or veal), make sure you're using fattier cuts. Get your butcher to grind you some pork shoulder and beef chuck. Or if you're buying it pre-ground, don't get lean.

                  I use homemade breadcrumbs. Some use stale bread, broken into pieces and soaked in milk.

                  Stay away from onion powder, garlic powder. I usually omit garlic altogether, but if I was, I'd sautee it along with diced onions (fresh, not powder) in order to mellow out the flavour.

                  Finely chopped parsley and basil are also good to use.

                  Lots of grated peccorino or parmesan or grana padano.

                  If you're not sure, fry a bit of the meat in a pan and test for seasoning.

                  1. I make mine like grandgourmand but cook them like fourunder. The real trick is to not over handle the meatballs when you are forming them otherwise they get tough.

                    1. Start with the following recipe from Rao's

                      http://www.joycesfinecooking.com/Beef...

                      Yes it looks like a lot of water and add it in batches and work it into the meat. Sometimes you do not need as much.

                      Then this past time jfood changed the cooking a bit. Instead of frying the meatballs he placed them on a wire rack over a cooking sheet and baked them for 20-30 minutes at 350. They are like pillows of love.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: jfood

                        I always had trouble making this one. I usually used lean ground pork, eggs, flour and onions for this but when I tried to form this into a ball, it is so loose. Does adding breadcrumbs do the trick?

                        1. re: Dark Wanderer

                          I use the same recipe and bake the same way jfood does. I play with the amount of water, but generally it is a loose mixture. I don't mind the flat bottoms at all :)

                          1. re: Dark Wanderer

                            Bread crumbs will definitely help, but I believe using too lean meat may be a part of your problem as well. I always use an 80/20 meat to fat ration.....any excess fat will release during the cooking/simmering process and can be easily removed by skimming or cooling similar to de-fatting chicken soup.

                            1. re: Dark Wanderer

                              add the water in batches until you get the correct consistency.

                          2. I go the Marcella Hazan route:
                            1/3 cup milk
                            1 slice white (Italian) bread w/out crusts
                            1 lb ground meat (she says beef, I don't eat beef so I go with some combination of pork, turkey, lamb, and/or bison. I agree that pork is a must.)
                            1tbsp finely chopped onion
                            1 tbsp finley chopped parsley
                            1 egg
                            pinch nutmeg or marjoram
                            3 tbsp grated parm
                            1 tbsp oil
                            salt & pepper
                            bread crumbs

                            Basically soak the bread in milk, and mash it with a fork til it's smooth (she does this over heat, which makes it easier). Mix together everything but the breadcrumbs. Form into balls and roll in breadcrumbs. She browns them in a skillet with oil; I agree with fourunder about baking them 20-30 min at 350*, then adding to a pot of tomato sauce.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Emmmily

                              I love Marcella Hazan but she is not an Italian American cook and meatballs are definitely Italian American.

                              1. re: markjbillet

                                Meatballs are also Italian-Italian! They just aren't served with pasta. I also love Marcella Hazan's "polpettine" recipe.

                                1. re: markjbillet

                                  Not true in the least. Many versions made here in the US are Italian-American variations, but I've had meatballs (polpette) in Italy in restaurants that served only authentic food. No English on the menu or even a translated menu available.

                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                    I was just thinking "then what's polpette?!!"
                                    Meatballs, of course!

                              2. I use turkey and pork, I cut back on beef. Grated onion is a must, egg, fresh bread crumbs not dried and I dip the bread in milk and then squeeze. To me it adds lots of moisture for the dryer turkey, worscestershire, lots of parsley, basil and oregano, salt and pepper, egg, fresh grated parm, and minced garlic. I like to mix mine by hand (don't over work) then make into balls and then I put on a baking sheet in the fridge for 30 minutes. It firms them up. Then I bake at 400 for about 30 minutes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Now I also saute too. Baking, less mess and healthier, sauteing in olive oil, nothing wrong with it ... I do both. They are great, brown and crispy. I make 3 lbs usually and just freeze in a large baggie and take out what I need. Very easy.

                                NOTE: Roasted red peppers are great diced fine and added to the meatballs. Just depends it you want to get creative. But that is my favorite recipe.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                  I'm going to make some meatballs for SUBS :) this friday. I am going to definitely add more cheese, milk with bread, and try a mixture of turkey pork and sausage. I am really trying to stay away from the red meat.

                                  With the milk-bread mixture, does it have to be stale bread? Should I leave some bread to dry out over night? Also does it have to be cut up into really small pieces or does it kinda just disintegrate when soaked in milk? Thanks all for the replies!!

                                  1. re: cups123

                                    I don't think it has to be stale. Stale bread recipes are usually created as a use of stale bread so as not to waste anything.

                                    1. re: cups123

                                      Nope, just any old slice of bread, soak if just a little milk for a few second and squeeze. Makes a great moist bread crumb which is great for turkey. Once you soak in milk and squeeze, it just falls apart when you put in the meat mix. No reason to cut up. Me too trying to stay away from red but a little pork is good. I just use ground pork and ground turkey no sausage. Grating the onion .... KEY! makes a great flavor and grate over the meat so you loose no juice. You can grate garlic too, but don't find that much of a problem. Mine are usually always different because I use what I have, but mostly that is the mix. But please experiment and find what you like best.

                                      Hope you enjoy

                                  2. Here are my meatballs. I've never had any complaints about them :)

                                    1 ¼ lbs ground chuck
                                    1 ¼ lbs ground pork
                                    4 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced
                                    2 slices white bread, torn
                                    ½ cup milk
                                    2 eggs
                                    3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
                                    ½ tsp kosher salt
                                    ¼ tsp pepper
                                    1 tbsp fresh or dried parsley

                                    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

                                    In a small bowl, combine torn bread with the milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes until the bread has absorbed most of the liquid. Squeeze liquid out of bread and shred into bigger bowl.

                                    In a large bowl, combine bread, garlic, cheese, eggs, salt, pepper and parsley. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Add meat and mix by hand until just combined. Do not over mix.

                                    Lightly coat a sheet pan with olive oil. With clean hands, roll out 3” meatballs. This recipe should make about 12 3” meatballs. Bake for 35 minutes. Transfer meatballs to tomato sauce and let simmer for at least 3 hours.

                                    1. For me, there are three important components to meatballs. First, is the meat. In my meatballs, I prefer meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal), but will us any or all of them singularly, or in combination.
                                      Second, is the panade. I use bread soaked in at least whole milk, if not light cream or cream. This adds moisture and tenderness to the meatballs. Day-old bread is good, but truly, if you have a fresh loaf, cut it into slices and let it sit out an hour. Then I whiz the bread in a food processor and soak it in the milk or cream for 10 minutes, then add the panade to the forcemeat.
                                      Third, use eggs to bind.
                                      There you go, that's your base. From there? Make it your own--put your signature on it. You can't go wrong! Add herbs, cheese and aromatics as you like. If you are going to add onions and garlic, I recommend sauteeing first in a litle olive oil.
                                      Just fyi, I bake my meatballs for 20 minutes to get them "set" prior to adding them to my sauce in order to finish.
                                      Hope this helps.
                                      www.houndstoothgourmet.com

                                      eta.....I always, always make a little patty to brown in a small skillet in order to test the seasoning in the meatballs. Yeah.......I hate that step ;-)

                                      1. I would eliminate the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and Italian herbs. My meatballs are a very elemental combination of ground round, finely chopped garlic, finely chopped flat leaf parsley, grated Pecorino, egg, unseasoned bread crumbs and salt. I use about 1 egg per pound of meat and enough bread crumbs to bind it lightly. I saute the meatballs in a cast iron skillet, and when I am done, I pour off the fat and deglaze the pan with some of the tomatoes. For the sauce, just saute some chopped garlic in olive oil and watch carefully to make sure it doesn't brown. Add San Marzano tomatoes that have been whirled in a blender. I usually add sausage to my sauce as well as a piece of pork sauce meat. Sometimes I will make a braciole as well. These meatballs are delicious served on a hero the next day, so make more than you think that you will need!

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: roxlet

                                          I respect your recipe, but I don't like unseasoned bread crumbs, I love parm not pecorino, and love fresh seasonings to flavor. I don't use powder, but do like fresh garlic and onions. I like more seasoning than you have in yours. It would be very bland for me. But appreciate the simplicity. Don't get me wrong, I respect the recipe, I just need more flavor for me. Maybe just how I grew up. Everyone gets used to certain flavors and seasoning.

                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                            Absolutely, kchurchil! The wonderful thing about meatballs is that you can make them your OWN. They are an expression of love! Just make them tender and flavorful, however you like them.
                                            For some reason, I love to add garlic salt to my meatballs. Not just salt and ground garlic, but the garlic salt in a shaker. I would even use it if I was using fresh garlic too!

                                            1. re: monavano

                                              Yep, we all have our own and to be honest ... not very often are they ever the same. A little of this a little of that. Tender and juicy and who cares what is in there :)

                                              I too have used garlic salt when out of garlic, who knows. I was out of bread and used a chopped up onion roll. I'm easy, to me what makes it tastes good is what is important and that you like it and freinds and family do. My Grama used to use oatmeal and fresh mashed tomatoes in hers. Who knew?

                                            2. re: kchurchill5

                                              What an odd reply ... Roxlet is giving the OP suggestions on his/her recipe the same way every other poster on this thread has been. Yet you respond as though she were specifically critiquing yours.

                                          2. Two tips from Cook's Illustrated that I have found demonstrably worthy of incorporating into my meatball making:

                                            1. Instead of bread crumbs, use fresh torn bits of sturdy white bread soaked in just enough buttermilk to moisten.

                                            2. Don't use whole eggs: use yolks only. Egg whites make meatballs gummier than they need to be.

                                            And there should be no raw vegetables in meatballs or meatloaf. (Fresh parsley/herbs are good, though).

                                            Update: I didn't realize the CI recipe is online (I only use it for the meatballs, and I make mine with a heaping melon baller to size about 1 ounce each):

                                            http://food.yahoo.com/recipes/cooks-i...

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              how do you all feel about adding nutmeg?

                                              1. re: cups123

                                                I don't mind a pinch, I have used it before. I don't do it too often but not a bad idea.

                                                1. re: cups123

                                                  I feel good about that, but not enough to be identifiable.

                                                  1. re: cups123

                                                    Every once in a while, I add a small pinch of cinnamon to meatballs, or lasagna.

                                                    1. re: cups123

                                                      No nutmeg- its not Italian or a meatball

                                                      1. re: lipstix64

                                                        There is nutmeg in many Italian dishes. Just depends on what part of Italy one hails from.

                                                    2. re: Karl S

                                                      It's great to hear that Cook's recommends no raw veggies in meatballs or meatloaf.
                                                      That's all you taste.

                                                    3. I saute garlic and onions for the sauce and put half in my beef/pork mixture for the meatballs. I use bay leaves in the sauce and NEVER USE OREGANO. I also never saute nor bake the meatballs; I let them cook in the sauce. Whenever I make meatballs and sauce I must make a four-gallon batch because all my friends *demand* that they have some!

                                                      1. Panade is the secret. ingredient That and pecorino romano and egg yolk (no white). And chopped flat leaf parsely. I saute onion and minced garlic too.

                                                        1. I've used this recipe from Gourmet magazine with great success. The only modifications I make are to omit the garlic and veal (a PITA to find at my regular grocery store). I find the lemon zest adds a lovely and unexpected dimension. Also, I bake them like many others in this thread. It's infinitely less trouble.

                                                          I've gotten raves from both kids and grown-ups.

                                                          http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/...

                                                          ETA: I make this recipe with gluten free bread. You'd never know it's not wheat bread. Does the exact same job.

                                                          1. As some others have suggested, I think minced parsley is absolutely critical in getting a perfectly flavored meatball...

                                                            1. I have this little fun fact to ad:

                                                              "Back in the day" (the 60's and early 70s) my mother used to render pork fat in a cast-iron skillet and then use the rendered fat to fry the meatballs in. Man, they were tasty! She stopped using the rendered pork fat when the family became a bit more health conscious. A say a bit, because she switched to a mix of olive and vegetable oils. (Never baked!) They always tasted delicious, but never quite as delicious as the meatballs fried in rendered pork fat! My big treat was to have one nice and hot right after frying...before it went to simmer in the gravy. Oh, I miss those days.

                                                              1. I also use a mixture of ground beef and Italian sausage. The last time I made meatballs I soaked a slice of bread (crustless) in milk and added that to the mix. Huge difference in tenderness - so good.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: nvcook

                                                                  I soak homemade bread crumbs (nice and big crumbs) in milk, or cream. I like what the milk fat does to the meatball.