Best Baked Meatballs
Growing up, we often had spaghetti, but never spaghetti and meatballs. Meat sauce was the go to option. Of course a meat sauce is classically delicious and simple, but as a very food focused kid, I always yearned for meatballs. Our play kitchen’s plastic spaghetti came with three plastic meatballs. The families on Friday night sitcoms had spaghetti and meatballs. I was slightly annoyed by my childhood lack of meatballs, but not enough so to risk demanding them of my hardworking mother. I accepted our meat sauces and moved on.
As a college student in Washington, D.C., I had the chance to have tons of awesome professional experiences, and with them, work events. Drinks were always served, and of course, in the spirit of young professionalism, I would politely decline- but of course, always indulged in the food. The first real spaghetti and meatballs I ever had were served at one of these events. When I spotted the servers coming around with plates piled high with pasta and meatballs, I fought my best to hide my excitement, continuing to idly chat with coworkers and clients, while underneath the table, my feet were tapping in anticipation. Finally, one of the servers sat a plate in front of me, and I dug in only to be completely disappointed. The meatballs were clearly mass-produced, likely frozen and shipped from a wholesaler, and just awful. They were tough, dry, and flavorless. Again, I was forced to move on from my dreams of spaghetti and meatballs.
Fast-forward about six years. I’ve graduated from college, moved home, and started my own family. We’re hanging out at my mom’s, and she casually mentions that she’s making (gasp), spaghetti and meatballs for dinner! It took twenty-five years for me to finally get the meatballs I’d been secretly wanting forever. They were the total opposite of the tough, flavorless ones I was served in college, and the perfect jumping point for me to start making my own. We have spaghetti and meatballs at my house often now, and my love for them is no longer a secret. The recipe is simple, healthy, and completely impossible to mess up. Go for it!
What You’ll Need:
A pound of ground meat of your choice
1 cup of day old bread (About two slices torn in one inch pieces, or a hamburger bun, or half a baguette, or whatever you have lying around)
½ cup of milk (you can substitute half and half, or even heavy cream)
A large egg
½ cup of shredded parmesan cheese
A medium diced onion
1 ½ tablespoons of minced garlic
Dry or fresh basil and oregano (a few leaves chopped, or about two teaspoons of dry)
Salt and pepper to taste
What To Do:
Preheat your oven to 500. Baking the meatballs at such a high heat allows them to set up and cook quickly, and beats the hell out of standing over a hot pan of popping oil to pan fry.
Add your bread to a small mixing bowl, and pour the milk over it, allowing the milk to saturate. In a larger bowl, add your ground meat, egg, garlic, onion, and seasonings. Dump the moistened bread into the large bowl, and get to mixing! I find it’s best to use your hands. It feels gross, but it ensures you don’t overmix the meat. Just gently fold and massage it all together until everything’s incorporated.
Lightly grease your baking pan with olive oil. I typically use a square 8x8 pan, or something relative to that. Take your meat and roll it gently into about 10 or so equally shaped balls. Place in the baking sheet about half an inch apart. Throw them in your preheated oven for twenty to twenty five minutes.
At this point I throw together my favorite pasta sauce, which takes me about twenty-ish minutes. Remove the meatballs from the oven, and allow them to sit for about five minutes. They should be well browned and gorgeous! After they’ve had a few minutes to rest, scoop them out of the baking pan and nestle them in the saucepan with your lovely sauce. Cover and allow to simmer for about fifteen minutes. Serve atop spaghetti or whatever pasta you want. Or on a toasted baguette. Yes!
I find that many recipes call for three different types of meat to make the perfect meatball. Ground sirloin, ground pork, ground veal. I’ve made them with the aforementioned combination, and I’ve also made them with just ground turkey or even chicken. The results don’t differ that greatly in my opinion. So don’t feel like you have to go shopping for three different cuts of meat for one recipe- whatever you have on hand will do just fine.
This recipe is great to make ahead of time, like the night before, or even farther in advance. You can freeze the meatballs on a baking sheet, then place in a freezer safe bag, and just pick up where you left off when you’re ready. Just throw them in the oven on 500, and allow five to ten more minutes of cooking time.