These, are (as the title says) my “best” meatballs—they’re light, tender and bursting with flavor. When wanting tender, juicy meatball it’s important to remember two things: handle the meat mixture with kindness and simmer them very (very) gently, as aggressive handling and/or cooking will toughen them. The only exception to this is while browning the meatballs–which is done with the sole purpose of searing the surface. No need to get carried away with this part since browning them on “all” sides is nearly impossible and would risk overcooking them at this initial stage. This recipe is purposely large because meatballs freeze perfectly. You can, if you wish, halve the recipe. To read my blog, which has many step-by-step instructions (along with the story of how come making great meatballs is so important to me) click here.
- 4 slices “hearty” style white bread, crusts removed and the bread cut into small cubes
- ½ cup milk
- 2 extra large eggs
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 6 cloves garlic
- ½ cup prepared basil pesto (finely ground homemade or your favorite store-bought brand)
- ½ cup freshly ground best-quality Parmesan cheese (plus more for rolling meatballs and serving)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 pounds ground meat (Ask the butcher to grind equal amounts of beef and veal together. You can also include ground pork in the mix.)
- Between 5 and 6 quarts Marinara Sauce (preferably with lots of garlic, fresh basil and sautéed mushrooms)
- Olive oil, as needed, to brown the meatballs
To soak the bread
Put the cubed bread in a bowl and add the milk. Use your hands to help the bread absorb the milk. Set aside.
To assemble the meatball mixture
Put the eggs, onion, garlic, pesto, ½ cup Parmesan and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper into the blender. Puree until smooth. Put the ground meat into a large (preferably wide) bowl and pour the pureed mixture on top of the meat. Add the moistened bread cubes, as well, and using your hands, work everything into the meat, using a tender hand—you’re not squeezing or kneading the meat aggressively—which can toughen the meat. Just use your hands to fold the two consistencies together, turning this into one mixture.
To set up to form meatballs
Line two large shallow baking sheets (or trays) with wax paper and then sprinkle the paper generously with more grated Parmesan.
To form meatballs and chill
Use your working hand to scoop up some of the meat mixture (mine are the size of a small soft-ball). Gently round the shape by rolling the meat mixture between two hands. Lay the round on the cheese-lined tray and continue until you’ve finished shaping all the meatballs, dividing them between both trays. Then, one by one, roll each meatball in the cheese, then round the shape again, helping the cheese to adhere. When all the meatballs are coated with the cheese, cover the sheets with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to several hours).
To set up to cook meatballs
Bring the marinara sauce to a simmer in a 10-quart heavy bottomed saucepan, over low-heat, with the lid ajar. Remove the meatballs from the refrigerator.
To brown meatballs and simmer
Heat a large non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat, with a shallow layer of olive oil. When the oil is hot, brown the meatballs, in batches, turning the meatballs over carefully, to brown on at least two sides—(Before placing the meatball into the pan, use your hands to re-round the shape and avoid damaging the meatball when turning—using a non-stick turning spatula as well as tongs, will help give you the dexterity you need.) As you brown the meatballs, place on a clean tray. Once all the meatballs are browned, lower them into the simmering sauce. Once in the pot, don’t stir—using oven mitts, shimmy the pot –using the side handles—to help the meatballs settle in and become submerged in the sauce. The sauce should be on VERY low heat—Cover the pot and simmer the meatballs (again, very gently!), over very low heat, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Don't wait for the sauce to return to a simmer before you begin timing--If the sauce was simmering at the start, you will only see the barest bubble at the center of the sauce, after adding the meatballs. If your meatballs are smaller, you'll simmer then less.)
Turn off the heat and add more black pepper, some minced raw garlic and more fresh basil, to taste, then shimmy the pot to distribute things. Take the pot off the stove.
To divide and store
If not serving right away, allow the meatballs to cool in the sauce (uncovered). Divide the meatballs in plastic tubs. If you’d like to serve some and store the rest, transfer the meatballs and sauce you’d like to serve into another pot. Place the rest into a freezer container and attach a label with the contents and date. Freeze. To thaw, remove from the freezer and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
To reheat and serve
Reheat the meatballs, covered, over very low heat, shimmying the pot as needed, to help things heat evenly. Serve when piping hot throughout.