Ocean City Today

Art of making Italian meatballs

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | May 10, 2018

(May 11, 2018) The philosophy of simplicity implies a concept of straightforwardness and an easiness to understand.

On the other hand, complexity denotes intricacy, complexity and sophistication. But can an idea of basics and difficulty intertwine to a degree of common interests?

Chef’s push the boundaries of possibilities and at the same time respect the fundamental rules that constitutes cooking.

Meatballs seem uncomplicated. A combination of ground meat, bread crumbs, seasonings and a binder can be accomplished with little difficulty.

However, there is a big difference between average meatballs and outstanding meatballs. This distinction and intricate details are crucial for success. With that in mind, let us review the art of making Italian meatballs.

First and foremost, use the freshest, quality ingredients. This means whole garlic cloves instead of powdered or jarred garlic, fresh parsley verses dried parsley, and real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as opposed to generic Parmesan cheese.

Whether to add or not to add onion is another consideration. If one decides to add onion, what type of onion do you add? If you strive for perfection, them the next logical question is how should one cut the onions?

Sweet onions are too mild and red onions can be overpowering. Yellow onions have good flavor which enhances the overall taste of the meatball. Chopped onions as opposed to minced onions also give the meatballs added texture. It is these subtleties that distinguish a good cook from a great cook.

There is also the question of fillers, bread crumbs or bread that has been soaked with milk.

Traditionalists prefer bread crumbs. They are premade which requires little fuss, but there are those who prefer using one-day-old bread and mixing it with either milk or buttermilk to form a paste.

This method supposedly makes a lighter meatball but distributing the paste evenly throughout the meat mixture can be challenging.

Meatballs are not the time to purchase inferior meat. The quality of the meat is imperative. A combination of pork, beef and veal is recommended.

If you use only beef, chances are the meatballs will be a little tough. Some Italians swear that veal is the only way to go. The veal will yield a tender consistency but will not have the flavor that pork can provide.

When making burgers, one should handle the meat as little as possible, but there are exceptions to every rule.

It takes time to incorporate all the ingredients into the meatballs. Do not be afraid to use your hands to mix. A few pounds of meat along with all the ingredients needs at least 3 minutes of hand mixing.

It is important to roll each meatball the same size for even cooking. Gently roll and fry, do not bake.

Dab a little olive oil on your hands so the meat does not stick, and then carefully form your meatballs.

Pour the olive oil into a pan and turn the burner to medium to medium-high heat. Once the meatballs have obtained a sear on all sides, place the meatballs directly into the sauce. The meatballs will continual to cook and at the same time flavor your sauce.

The sauce is just as important as the meatballs and you have several options depending on your personal preference. There is no question a fresh sauce is the best but it takes time and effort.

Gourmet sauces are tasty but quite pricy. Good quality canned tomato sauce can be used as a base for your sauce and is a practical option.

One key tip when making your sauce, do not add sugar. Instead, add a few pinches of baking soda. Baking soda neutralizes the acid in the tomatoes. When you add it to the sauce, the baking soda will cause the sauce to foam. Only add a few pinches. If you add too much it will cause the sauce to have a bitter taste.

When I make Italian meatballs, I always make a large barge batch and freeze them. This way, if I have unexpected company, I can easily make a pot of sauce and add the meatballs.

Memorial Day is only a few weeks away and it can be chilly. If the weather does not cooperate and you have a large crowd to feed including children, make a big salad, doctor up a few frozen pizzas, and serve spaghetti and meatballs.

Your guests will love the menu, appreciate your efforts, and gobble up your homemade balls of joy. Enjoy!

* The recipe is based on 1-pound of meat. This way you can adjust it accordingly.

Italian Meatballs


½ cup whole milk

1 large egg

1-pound meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork and veal)

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1 rounded tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

kosher salt and pepper to taste

good quality olive oil for frying

1.  In a small bowl, whisk milk and the egg together.

2.  In a large bowl, combine meats, onions, garlic, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Use your hands to fully incorporate all of the ingredients.

3.  Shape the meat mixture into 1 ½-inch meatballs.

4.  In a large sauté pan, add enough oil to cover the pan. Turn heat to medium to medium-high and sear the meatballs until all sides are browned.

5.  Place meatballs in the sauce and cook until they are done.

Secret Ingredient – Specifics. “Little things make a big difference.”

– John Wooden


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