What’s not to love about tender, flavorful meal-sized meatballs that practically melt in your mouth? We serve them bathed in sauce, topped with melted cheese and served over green beans instead of pasta. It’s meatballs my way and this dinner goes in my Favorite Comfort Foods category. I think it will end up in yours, too!
I’m SO Ready For Cozy Comfort Food, Aren’t You?
Fall is one of my very favorite times of the year! I just love the change of seasons and everything that comes with them. Each one has it’s own special qualities to look forward to (though, here in Cleveland, winter may last a little too long). For some, fall is all pumpkins and sweaters and boots… but for me?
Fall is the beginning of Comfort Food Season! Ok…and pumpkins and sweaters and boots… 🙂
As I write this, it’s the first day of October. Over the last few weeks we’ve been gradually saying our goodbyes to the fresh, quick cooking, brightly colored produce of summer and the opportunity to grill and dine outdoors in the sunshine. Summer has slipped into fall, making room for slower, richer foods that we’ll savor around cozy indoor tables enveloped in their cooking aromas, as the last glimmers of daylight disappear before dessert (and eventually before we even sit down).
Fall food is comfort food- and this meatball recipe falls perfectly into that category.
What makes These Meatballs Different?
These aren’t your average meatballs! For years really tender meatballs evaded me. And sometimes the flavor was less than the wow-factor I was going for. I could make passable meatballs but I wanted something CRAVEABLE. These meatballs are exactly what I was going for- they’re juicy and tender and packed with flavor. Here’s what makes them different:
- We’re going to use Beef and Bacon. BACON.
- These are meal-sized meatballs @ 6-ish ounces each
- The mixing, shaping and cooking method ensures that they’re super tender
So, let’s get started!
Building Flavor And A Tender Texture
Have you ever bitten into a meatball that was dry and crumbly? It’s super disappointing, right? As important as flavor is in a meatball, I think texture is the key to meatball happiness. Here’s how we get both right:
- We’re going to use a mix of ground beef and bacon. The bacon adds so much flavor and makes these meatballs super juicy!
- Dice the bacon first and combine with chopped shallots and minced garlic. Pulsing this mixture in a food processor before combining with everything else ensures the flavors are spread out evenly throughout the meatballs.
- We’re keeping the herbs pretty simple. Use fresh flat leaf parsley (please do not use dried), dried oregano and ground fennel. I like to start with whole fennel and crush with a mortar and pestle. crushed/ground is preferable to whole seeds because the flavor spreads more evenly and some people object to their texture when left whole. You can always use fennel seeds if you prefer. These are your meatballs!
- We’re also going to add a generous amount of parmesan. Parmesan adds a subtle depth and nuttiness to everything it touches. It also helps to thicken and bind the meatballs.
- We’re only using the egg yolks here. The yolks are where the flavor is plus they contribute to the texture and act as a binder to hold the meatballs together.
- Panade is the term for combining bread and liquid to form a paste that you add to ground meat to help keep it light and moist. Panades can be made with dried or fresh bread but we’re using fresh here for ultimate tenderness.
Technique- The Ultimate Meatball Hack
I’m about to show you the ultimate tender meatball hack- ready? It’s all in the way you mix the ingredients! In my quest for craveable meatballs I came across a mixing technique from Serious Eats that blew me away! Ironically the recipe itself is very similar to what I’d already come up with as far as ingredients and I attribute the similarity to the fact that meatballs have been around for a long time and it makes sense that there will be overlap in recipes.
When you’re mixing meatballs you need to get the ground meat evenly distributed among all of the other ingredients. The problem with is that you often end up over-mixing in order to get everything combined. Overmixing results in tough meatballs.
The “fix”? You’re going to mix everything except for the beef first. Then, add just 1/4 of the ground meat and blend it really well You don’t need to worry about over mixing at this point. Once you have your base meatball mixture blended, crumble the remaining ground beef over top.
Now, GENTLY combine the beef into the base mixture. If you’ve ever made a soufflé or a cake where you need to fold beaten egg whites into the base, this is a similar concept. You’ve essentially “lightened” the mixture so that the remaining beef incorporates more easily. Only mix to the point where you don’t have large pieces of base or ground beef left.
Do this with ANY meatball recipe and you’ll notice a difference. I’ve used it when making crab cakes, too. It’s genius!
Shaping and Baking
Another common problem with meat balls is how to cook them so that they keep their shape. Browning in a skillet first is messy. If you cook them in sauce without browning first they can fall apart. Cooking completely in the oven can result in flat, dry meatballs. Plus, since these are BIG meatballs I was concerned about getting them cooked all the way through without drying them out in the process.
A pre-chill and two step cooking process is the answer!
- Chill them after shaping. I do this with cookie dough so why not with meatballs? It’s also nice because it means you can make them ahead because you’ll be cooking directly from the fridge.
- Bake first on a lined baking sheet. This preserves their shape and provides color on the outside. It also prevents greasy sauce by leaving some of the fat on the sheet.
- Finish them in sauce. We’ll cook them at a LOW temp after covering partially in sauce and topping with cheese.
- Use an instant read thermometer to double check your temperature before removing from the oven. They need to reach 160°f in the center.
What Sauce Should You Use?
You’ll need about 4 cups of sauce for this recipe. I like a good marinara, but you can use any red sauce you like. Maybe you have your own recipe? Or you have a jar in the pantry?
I have three favorite sauces that I waffle between, depending on the season and how much time I have.
How To Serve Them
We really love these meal sized-meatballs on top of blanched green beans, with an extra ladle of sauce. If you’re watching carbs, especially, you need to try this!
Of course, you can always go the traditional route and nestle one into a bowl of spaghetti. After all, when you’re making them they’re actually Meatballs YOUR Way 🙂
If you make this recipe I’d love to hear about it! Tag me on Instagram or Facebook @breathingandcooking or let me know in the comments! I hope you enjoy these meatballs as much as we do…enjoy!
- 1 1/3 pound ground beef (85% lean)
- 1/2 pound bacon, diced
- 3 ounces crustless sourdough bread, cubed (about 2 lightly filled cups)*
- 1/3 cup milk
- 2/3 cup shallot
- 2 tsp minced garlic (if you have roasted garlic it's wonderful here)
- 1 cup shredded parmesan, divided
- 1/2 cup lightly packed, chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 TBSP Diamond Kosher salt*
- Cracked pepper, about 15 cranks
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
- 1/4 cup chicken bone broth
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 28 ounces marinara sauce*
- 2 pounds blanched fresh green beans*
- Place bread cubes in a large bowl (big enough to hold all ingredients), pour milk over and squish with your hands until no lumps remain and the bread is more like a slushy dough. Let stand 10 minutes.
- While milk/bread mixture sits chop shallot, shred parmesan, chop parsley and dice bacon.
- Process chopped bacon and shallots in food processor until coarsely ground. If you don't have a food processor just make sure to chop both ingredients very fine.
- Into bowl with soaked bread add bacon, shallot, garlic, 3/4 cup parmesan, parsley, kosher salt, cracked pepper, egg yolks, oregano, fennel and bone broth. Mix very well until everything is evenly distributed.
- Add 1/4 of the ground beef to the mixture in the bowl and combine until completely incorporated. You don't need to worry about over-mixing at this point.
- Now that your base mixture is combined, break up the remaining ground beef with your hands as you gently combine it with the ingredients in the bowl just until evenly distributed. Do not overmix. Mixing in this way will keep the meatballs tender.
- Divide mixture into 6 portions and shape each into a large meatball with your hands. You can wet your hands a little to make it easier to shape if they're very sticky
- Place meatballs on a lined baking sheet (I use parchment, foil works, too) and chill for 30 minutes. This firms up the meatballs so that they don't flatten while cooking.
- After meatballs have chilled, bake in a 400 degree F preheated oven 20 minutes
- Reduce oven to 325 degrees F.
- Place partially cooked meatballs in a casserole dish and pour sauce over to come halfway up sides, top each with a little shredded mozzarella and reserved parmesan and continue baking 25 minutes. Check internal temperature of meatballs, they should be 160° f
- Top with fresh parsley and serve over blanched green beans with additional sauce
- I use the Costco grass fed ground beef which comes in 1 1/3 Lb packs
- Using sourdough bread adds a nice tanginess. You can use any firm white bread instead of sourdough.
- Aways use Diamond Kosher salt in my recipes unless otherwise stated. If you're using table salt decrease to 1/2 tsp.
- I like the flavor of shallots, you can substitute yellow onion if preferred
- For the marinara you can make your own or use a jarred sauce. See my post on A Tale Of Three Red Sauces
- To blanch green beans see my post on Simple Blanched Green Beans