Dried thyme, parsley and garlic cloves help flavor Turkey Meatballs With Almonds. (Kate Lawson / The Detroit News)
Consider the meatball.
Those mighty orbs of protein are packed with flavor and right at home no matter what the venue; they’re super served over pasta, stuffed in a sandwich, perched on a salad or set afloat in a bowl of broth. But the humble meatball can also be rather worldly, showing up in a variety of cuisines from Indian and Chinese to Greek, Mexican, the ubiquitous Italian and, of course, the ever-popular Swedish meatballs.
They can be made with all manner of meats, from beef and veal to pork, lamb and turkey, or for a vegetarian version, try cooked lentils. They can be stuffed with cheese or nuts and sauced in just about anything from tomato to teriyaki.
And meatballs are not one-size-fits-all, either. They can range in size from a tennis ball (for pasta) to a walnut (for sandwiches) and even smaller to cherry-size to grace a plate of salad greens or served in a soup such as the Mexican albondigas.
Even better is that you can make them ahead and freeze. Then when the mood strikes, and the crowd asks, “What’s for dinner?,” you can pop them in the oven and serve them up any way you like.
So whether you’re planning for a weeknight meal, a Sunday supper or a Super Bowl snack, consider the meatball. Both carnivores and vegetarians will be delighted.
■Avoid extra-lean ground beef. Meatballs need a little fat, or they will be dry,
■Add chopped bacon or cheese to keep the mix moist.
■Do not overmix or overhandle meat, and don’t compact it much or it will be tough.
■Use fillers such as egg, breadcrumbs, panko, matzo meal or saltines.
■To keep meatballs from sticking to your hands, rub the meat with a little oil before rolling.
■Always cook meatballs first before adding to sauces or soups.
■Meatballs can be fried, baked or simmered in water. Rolling meatballs in flour, bread crumbs or panko before frying gives them a crispy exterior.
■Ideally, you can sear meatballs in a small amount of oil in a skillet (take care not to overcrowd them) or bake in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Meatballs also can be lightly browned first, then finished off in the oven.
■Turn meatballs only once when frying, or gently shake pan. If baking, there’s no need to turn.
■When freezing meatballs, spread them on a cookie sheet and flash-freeze for about an hour. Then transfer them to zippered freezer bags so you can grab as many as you want, and they won’t be stuck together.
Lentil Ricotta Meatballs
Recipe from “Homemade with Love” by Jennifer Perillo
2 cups cooked lentils, pureed 2 large eggs, lighten beaten 2⁄3 cup plain breadcrumbs (see sidebar) ¼ cup fresh Creamy Homemade Ricotta (see recipe in Kate’s Simply the Best column) ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper Canola oil, for frying Homemade or jarred marinara sauce (optional)
Combine the lentils, eggs, breadcrumbs, ricotta, Pecorino, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste in a deep bowl. Mix very well, using your hands or a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
When ready to cook, shape the mixture into 1½-inch balls.
Add ½ inch of oil to a nonstick skillet. Heat over a medium flame until the oil is shimmering. Add the shaped meatballs to the pan in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, and cook until they are browned all around, turning only once. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let the excess oil drain. Add the cooked meatballs to simmering marina sauce if serving immediately and simmer for an hour to soak up the sauce. (If you’re pressed for time, half an hour will do.) Store the cooked meatballs in a tightly covered container for up to 3 days. Makes about 18 meatballs.
Gluten-free friendly tip: Swap in stale gluten-free bread to make your own breadcrumbs (see the technique tip below) and everyone can enjoy this recipe.
Technique tip: Imagine making money by selling stale bread — that’s what bakeries and big companies do all the time! Save those stray pieces left from the previous night’s dinner in a paper bag. As they dry out, give them a quick pulse in a food processor and you’ll always have free homemade breadcrumbs on hand.
Per serving (without sauce): 76 calories; 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 36 percent calories from fat); 8 g carbohydrates; 26 mg cholesterol; 101 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber.
Jumbo Cheesy Italian Meatballs
Recipe from Bon Appetit
For the meatballs
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
3 ½cups torn stale Italian bread (about ¼ loaf)
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 small bunch parsley, chopped (about 1 cup)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, grated
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 mini mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
For the sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 to 4 sprigs basil, plus chopped leaves for topping
Ricotta cheese, for topping
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Pulse the bread in a food processor to make coarse crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl, add the milk and set aside to soak. Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the beef, parsley, parmesan, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and the red pepper flakes; mix with your hands to combine. Add the bread-milk mixture and mix until just combined (do not overmix).
Dampen your hands and shape the meat mixture into 4 large balls. Make an indentation in the center of each with your thumb and stuff with a mini mozzarella ball, then mold the meat around the cheese. Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake until browned and firm, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic softens, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 1 cup water, the basil sprigs and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.
Remove the meatballs from the oven and add to the sauce, spooning some of the sauce on top. Continue cooking, occasionally spooning the sauce over the meatballs, until tender and cooked through, about 6 minutes. Serve with ricotta and chopped basil.
You can form all of these meatballs a day ahead; cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. Makes 4.
Per serving: 882 calories; 52 g fat (21 g saturated fat; 53 percent calories from fat); 32 g carbohydrates; 304 mg cholesterol; 1,940 mg sodium; 69 g protein; 4 g fiber.
Asian Meatballs with Sesame Lime Sauce
Recipe adapted from Gourmet
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs
¾ pound ground pork
¾ pound ground veal
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ cup canned sliced water chestnuts, rinsed, drained, and finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro plus ¼ cup sprigs
5 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sugar
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Pour milk over bread crumbs in a large bowl and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add ground meat, egg, water chestnuts, salt, chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons oil, and mix with your hands until combined well. Shape 3 tablespoons meat mixture into a ball and transfer to a 13- by 9-inch glass baking dish. Make more meatballs with remaining mixture, arranging meatballs about ½ inch apart in baking dish. Bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together lime juice, water, sugar, remaining 4 tablespoons soy sauce and remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a bowl until sugar is dissolved. Transfer meatballs to a serving dish. Stir sauce, then drizzle meatballs with 1 tablespoon sauce and sprinkle with cilantro sprigs. Serve meatballs with jasmine rice and remaining sauce. Makes 4.
Per serving: 407 calories; 22 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 49 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 175 mg cholesterol; 1,760 mg sodium; 37 g protein; 2 g fiber.
Turkey Meatballs With Almonds
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds
2 bay leaves
1 pound ground turkey
1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds
¾ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sliced almonds, toasted
For sauce:Heat olive oil in heavy, large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, tomato and bell pepper, and cook until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add chicken broth, almonds and bay leaves and simmer until sauce is thick and chunky, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before using.)
For meatballs: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thoroughly combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Shape mixture into 1 ¼-inch balls. Arrange meatballs on heavy large baking sheet. Bake until cooked through and firm to touch, about 12 minutes.
Divide meatballs among 4 plates. Spoon sauce over. Garnish with sliced almonds and serve. Makes 4.
Per serving: 417 calories; 24 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 52 percent calories from fat); 19 g carbohydrates; 186 mg cholesterol; 276 mg sodium; 32 g protein; 4 g fiber.
Ricotta and Sage Fried Meatballs
Recipe from Bon Appetit
These little showstoppers would make a make great addition to Super Bowl party night.
1⁄3 cup whole-milk ricotta
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for frying
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted, lightly crushed
1 ¼ teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces ground pork
24 fresh sage leaves
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten to blend
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Marinara sauce, warmed (optional)
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Stir ricotta and 2 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl until smooth. Mix in garlic and next 5 ingredients. Add pork; gently fold until just combined.
Scoop out scant tablespoonfuls of pork mixture. With dampened hands, roll portions between your palms into 1-inch balls; place on sheet. Wrap 1 sage leaf around each ball; press gently to adhere.
Place flour, egg, and panko in 3 separate medium bowls. Working with 1 meatball at a time, dredge in flour, rolling between your hands to remove excess flour. Dip in egg; allow excess to drip back into bowl. Roll meatball in panko, pressing gently to coat. Return to sheet.
Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of a large, heavy pot. Pour in oil to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium heat until thermometer registers 350 degrees. Line another baking sheet with parchment; set a wire rack inside.
Working in batches, fry meatballs, turning often, until light golden and crisp, about 1 minute (they will finish cooking in the oven). Transfer to wire rack; let cool. Makes 18.
To make ahead: Meatballs can be fried 1 month ahead. Store airtight in freezer.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Bake meatballs in batches on wire rack in baking sheet until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve, or keep warm in oven for up to 45 minutes.
Pour some warm marinara, if using, into a small bowl. Serve alongside for dipping.
Per serving (without sauce): 112 calories; 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 23 mg cholesterol; 133 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 0.5 g fiber.
Mini Meatballs in Saffron Sauce
Recipe from Bon Appetit
Redolent of garlic and saffron, these tiny meatballs are a sure hit at any tapas party.
8 ounces ground pork
8 ounces ground veal
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 ½-inch-thick slice French bread, crust removed, soaked in water 3 minutes and squeezed dry
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
All purpose flour
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
½ teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 cup (or more) low-salt chicken broth
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
Mix pork, veal, 1 tablespoon parsley, half of garlic, egg, bread, 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in medium bowl to blend. Shape meat mixture into 1-inch balls. Dust meatballs with flour. Set aside.
Heat oil in heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and sauté until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to plate. Add onion to skillet; reduce heat to medium and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in paprika, then 1 cup broth and wine. Return meatballs with any accumulated juices to skillet. Bring to simmer. Cover and cook until meatballs are tender, about 25 minutes. Uncover; add 2 tablespoons parsley, remaining garlic, and saffron. Simmer until sauce thickens, turning meatballs occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer, thinning with broth if necessary.)
Place meatballs with sauce on platter. Top with 1 tablespoon parsley. Makes 24.
Per serving: 71 calories; 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 22 mg cholesterol; 172 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 0 g fiber.