I made a simple fresh tomato sauce the other day and I also served these meatballs.
Now, I have maybe a dozen different meatball recipes or variations which I like to make. But sometimes people love a simple plain meatball way more than anything complicated.
You have to use good quality meat! Preferably local grass-fed beef if possible. After that, I’ll keep it simple.
Why would you make your own meatballs when you can buy them frozen already made with all sorts of stuff in them?
Here are the ingredients from a popular store brand:
Pork, water, bread crumbs (bleached wheat flour, yeast, sugar, salt) and less than 2% of the following: dehydrated onion, salt, dehydrated red and green bell pepper, sodium phosphate, tomato powder, spices, sugar, garlic powder, dehydrated celery, torula yeast, natural flavor, bha, propyl gallate, citric acid.
Now, I’m pretty savvy but there are things in there I’ve no idea what they are and one I’ve never even heard of before. If you have to Google the ingredients, just back away from the freezer case. Please.
And check this out. The serving size for these is 3 meatballs. And they’re not very big. That’s 26g of fat, 580mg of sodium, and 1g of sugar. Those 3 little meatballs are 40% of your daily fat and 24% of your daily salt. That’s crazy.
Why do food labels use metric measurements in a country that doesn’t use the metric system? Could it be because most people won’t understand the label and just mostly ignore it? (Asking for a friend.)
Keeping It Simple
So, the recipe I want to share today is more of a technique. Once you’ve got it down, you can build on it however you want.
I start with a pound of ground beef. Like I said, preferably local grass-fed beef. If food tastes good to start with, you don’t have to add a lot of other flavors to fix it or cover it up.
Then bread crumbs, about 1/3 cup. The bread helps hold the meat together, gives it that meatball-like texture, and absorbs some of the cooking liquid.
You can make your own from bread that’s getting a bit too stale for sandwiches. You could also put fresh bread in a low oven for a while to dry it out. Either way, a few seconds in a food processor and you’ve got bread crumbs.
Yes, you can also buy bread crumbs. Of course. But read the label. So many of them have a bunch of sugars added — I don’t understand why — or other ingredients that you don’t want to be eating. I went looking for good quality pre-made bread crumbs in the local big grocery store recently and I was flat-out dumbfounded and frustrated at the stuff they add.
Okay. Let’s do this. Beat an egg in a bowl.
Add your meat, breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon of table salt), and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper.
Wash your hands and then get in there and mix this all up. Once it looks roughly all the same then start rolling your meatballs about the size of a ping pong ball. Of course, you can make them whatever size you want, the only thing that really changes is the cooking time. I just stack them on a plate as I go.
Here’s a tip, until it becomes second nature: make a little meatball fist and cook it. Taste it. This lets you check the seasoning before you get too far along.
Heat a glug of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. You should hear a sizzle when you add them. If you don’t, the pan’s not hot enough yet.
Fry them evenly on all sides, rolling them around in the pan every couple of minutes. A pair of tongs works great too. They’ll take about 8-10 minutes to be done. (The ones in the picture below are almost but not quite ready.)
Remove to paper towels when done.
Like I said, this is your basic recipe. And trust me, they’re good just like this. Because you’re not adding a raft of different flavors, they don’t bump into the flavors in your other dishes. (Have you ever had pasta sauce and meatballs at a restaurant that taste so very different you’d swear they were done by different cooks in different kitchens? It’s usually not a good thing.)
- You can use half ground beef and half ground pork.
- Add some favorite spices and herbs like oregano, basil, parsley, or what have you.
- Sprinkle some crushed red pepper flakes in for a little heat.
- Toss in a handful of grated Parmesan cheese to add a nice nutty saltiness.
- Soak your breadcrumbs in a little milk first.
- Or even use some Italian sausage as part of the meat mix!
Just consider the whole meal around them. Unless the meatballs are the centerpiece of your menu, you want them to complement the other food, not distract from it.
Oh, you can finish the meatballs in your pasta sauce too. I want the sear on the outside that a frying pan gives, but soaking in tomato sauce for a few minutes adds flavor to both and brings the flavors together nicely.
Simplest Possible Meatballs
Start with the simplest possible meatballs. Use fresh quality ingredients for flavors as the star of the show. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 1 egg, large
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt Or 1/2 teaspoon table salt.
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Beat the egg in a large bowl.
Add the ground beef, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix well with your hands.
Roll into meatballs about the size of a ping pong ball (or whatever size you prefer).
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs, turning every couple of minutes, until cooked through. About 10 minutes.
Remove to paper towels and serve.