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CYNTHIA STONE: Meatball heaven

A forkful of tender and tasty meatball. Make batches for meals and freeze them.
A forkful of tender and tasty meatball. Make batches for meals and freeze them. - Cynthia Stone photo

Friday night on the run, cocktail party Saturday, game day Sunday or planning for the holidays creeping up behind us, meatballs should always be on your go-to rescue list.

A count-on-it basic recipe and a few fabulous sauce options make you feel in charge in the kitchen when everything else is out of hand.

Always Perfectly Tender Meatballs

You’ve had tough, chewy, dry meatballs. Maybe you’ve even made them. These aren’t them.

The most common mistake is overworking beef, which generates some weird meat glue that ruins potentially delicious morsels. Add to that a lack of fat and moisture and you’ve got trouble on a plate.

If you use all beef, choose medium. If you use beef and pork, as I suggest below, you can choose lean or extra-lean beef.

Soaking the bread in milk creates a panade, a paste that traps moisture in the meatball and makes it more tender. It works for meatloaf, too. If you prefer not to use dairy, substitute beef stock.

The flavours here will work with any sauce, but if you’re planning an Italian feast feel free to add some Parmesan cheese and fennel. For a curry consider garam masala. For sweet and sour a spoonful of five-spice powder would be great. The amount of salt is modest so you can tang up the toppings.

Fresh herbs add depth of flavour and a bright note but leave them out if you’d rather.

This recipe makes about 24 medium-sized meatballs but nothing is more satisfying than having a gigantic batch bagged up in meal-sized portions in the freezer. To do that, lay raw meatballs on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Tightly sealed, they will keep perfectly for three or four months. You can cook before freezing but they won’t be as good.

3 slices day-old bread, white or whole wheat but not a whole-grain variety
1/3 cup milk
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh leaves Italian parsley, optional
1 tsp. fresh chopped thyme leaves or ½ tsp. dried
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lightly beaten egg
1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
½ lb. lean ground pork

Tear the bread into small pieces and add to milk and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes, mashing the mixture with a fork every now and again.

Fry onion in oil until soft and starting to brown. Add garlic and cook another minute, just until fragrant. Cool a few minutes then combine with soaked bread, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and beaten egg. Stir in beef and pork until there are no visible streaks of bread paste. Don’t overwork the mixture. Form into balls.

You can dress your meatballs in different sauces and serve them up with vegetables, rice or noodles.
You can dress your meatballs in different sauces and serve them up with vegetables, rice or noodles.

For the tastiest result fry in a little vegetable oil until brown and crusty all around and cooked through the centre. A tip for frying is to leave them alone until they brown completely on one side before trying to turn them. If you’d rather, place on a baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees F 20 minutes or until cooked through. Drain on a paper towel to get rid of any excess grease.

Now pick your sauce—each of these recipes is good for a full batch of meatballs.

Tangy BBQ Sauce

This is easy and makes plenty of sauce. Heat with the meatballs and serve them on toothpicks as appetizers or with rice or roasted potato wedges as a meal.

2 cups ketchup or your favourite bottled barbecue sauce
3 tbsp. each lemon juice, cider vinegar and water
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. grated yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ to 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
½ tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Swedish Meatball Sauce

Here’s the comfort-food meatball companion sauce. Serve on a mound of buttered egg noodles for a wonderful fall supper.

If the whipping cream is over the top for you substitute evaporated skim milk; it’s perfect in texture and pretty close in flavor. You can use yogurt instead of sour cream but low-fat might curdle.

3 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. grated onion
1 clove garlic, grated
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp. each allspice and nutmeg
2 cups beef broth
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup whipping cream
¼ cup sour cream
¼ tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Melt butter in a non-stick frying pan. Add onion and garlic and cook until fragrant and starting to colour. Whisk in flour, allspice and nutmeg and cook, stirring, about a minute. Whisk in beef broth and Worcestershire sauce and cook until thick and smooth. Whisk in whipping cream and bring just to a boil. Stir in sour cream and heat through over low—don’t boil. Add salt and pepper.

Orange Ginger Sauce

Sweet and a little hot, this easy sauce is great with rice or noodles, or all by itself glazing those delicious meatballs.

½ cup orange marmalade
¼ cup bottled hoisin sauce
2 tbsp. fresh gingerroot, finely grated
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

¼ to ½ tsp. bottled sriracha hot sauce
3 green onions, chopped

Combine marmalade, hoisin, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar and hot sauce in a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer about 10 minutes. Stir in green onions, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the meatballs.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

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