Saving the Day with Meatballs
By Anne Wolfe Postic
The pitiful sob from the back seat broke my heart. A wail of regret so momentous I almost wrecked in solidarity. What tragedy had befallen my youngest son, not yet three years old, that he could feel such abject hopelessness? I pulled over to find out what I could do to mitigate any lasting psychological damage.
“What is it, my sweet baby? What happened?”
“I…I…I…ATE OLIVER’S MEATBALLS…ahhhhooooowahhhhh…”
He erupted into sobs once more, tears streaming down his innocent, chubby cheeks. His beloved older brother, in sixth grade, had biked to a local spot with friends after school. With his own money, he had bought spaghetti and meatballs, leaving the leftovers in the car with specific instructions not to eat a bite, especially the meatballs. The container, just barely reachable from the toddler’s car seat, had proved irresistible.
“My baby, my darling,” I sighed with relief, “I can fix this. Oliver will be fine. I can make more meatballs!”
His sobs turned to suspicion, tinged with the slightest hint of resentment.
“You can make meatballs?”
I had been holding out, and he was less than pleased. That afternoon, I made meatballs. At supper, we broke the news to his older brother as I served heaping plates of pasta and meatballs. Bad news is less painful with a side of comfort food.
My children forgave me for waiting so long to make meatballs, mainly because, as a penance, I pledged to always make large batches, freezing some for later, so we could enjoy them whenever necessary. You are perfectly capable of sharing this joy with your nearest and dearest, and there’s no need to wait for a meatball emergency. Here you go!
First, assemble these things:
1.5 cups breadcrumbs (or crushed potato chips or crackers or whatever. I keep a running bag of crushed starch products in the freezer, cobbled together from whatever may have gotten stale before we could eat it.)
1.5 cups milk
3 large eggs
1.5 cups shredded Parmesan (or Asiago or Romano or whatever)
A handful of chopped fresh parsley (or basil or a mix of whatever green herby thing you have that might be good)
1 tablespoon salt, or a heaping tablespoon of your favorite seasoning salt (we like Seasonello, sea salt with a traditional Bolognese blend of herbs)
Optional: a few dashes of Italian seasoning if you used plain, unseasoned salt
3 pounds ground meat, any combination. I use one pound each pork, lamb, and beef.
1 large onion, finely chopped or grated
1 tablespoon or so of chopped garlic
Now, make the meatballs!
Stir the milk and starchy crumbs in a bowl to combine. The crumbs will get nice and soggy while you work.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, cheese, parsley, salt, Italian seasoning, and pepper.
Add meat to the bowl and mush everything together by hand. Remove any jewelry first, or you’ll have to have them professionally cleaned.
Add onion and soaked starchy crumbs, blending by hand. Don’t get too aggressive. Work the meat as little as possible to blend all ingredients.
Shape meatballs by hand. Line a freezer container with waxed paper, adding the meatballs as you go. The size is up to you. We prefer bite-size, about an inch and a half, usually a heaping tablespoon of the mixture.
Freeze the extra meatballs for a rainy day.
Setting aside what you plan to eat immediately, freeze the uncooked meatballs. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag for more efficient storage. Thaw in the fridge before cooking.
Make your meal!
Heat some olive oil in a pan on the stove. Add a single layer of meatballs, leaving a little room to stir, and brown them on medium heat, nudging every so often until the whole exterior is brown.
Pour in enough tomato sauce to barely cover the meatballs. Cover the pan and simmer on low heat until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165 ºF, about 30 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, prepare your favorite pasta. Classic spaghetti works, but the meatballs are the star here, so whatever shape you have on hand is just fine.
Drain the pasta, top with meatballs and sauce, serve with extra cheese, and sit back and accept the love.
Our story had a surprise twist. One lone meatball was located hidden under the mound of pasta in our older son’s treasured to-go box. It was a good meatball. But in a side-by-side taste test, the homemade meatballs were declared by everyone present to be infinitely superior. Here’s to being your child’s hero every once in a while. Not all heroes wear capes — some of us save the day (and the toddler) with meatballs. Buon appetito, y’all!