Today I bring to you another Friday night dinner idea which I cooked up last week and was a huge success at home: Baked meatballs in smoky tomato sauce.... but, before to kick off with the recipe, I’m going to share with you some tips I’ve learnt to achieve the perfect meatballs - without breadcrumbs !... This can be a little bit tricky and even some people may think meatballs without breadcrumbs doesn’t work, but, believe me, it can and does!
How to cook the perfect meatballs without breadcrumbs?
1. The best substitute for breadcrumbs.
Substitute the bread for almond flour and the result will be the most flavourful and tender gluten free meatballs you’ve ever had. You and your guests won't notice any nutty flavour at all. Adding half cup per pound of meat is enough.
2. Season the meat
Make sure to season the meat with salt. If you are adding some Parmesan cheese to the meatballs, as with my recipe below, then also add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, but if you decide not to any cheese then add 1 teaspoon per pound of meat instead. I also recommend first frying a small patty of the meat mixture in olive oil to test for seasoning.
3. Don’t spare the herbs.
Mix the meat up with as many herbs as you desire, such as nutmeg, basil, oregano, garlic or even spicy herbs. We don't want meatballs to taste like mini burgers, do we?
4. Let ingredients cool
If you are adding pre cooked ingredients, like onions into the mixture, then let them cool down completely first, before adding them in.
5. Bet for high-quality meat.
You can use any ground meat or mix of ground meat you like, but above all, use high-quality meat and a lean ground mince to achieve a tender mixture. Take into account that the fattier the meat you use, the more tender your meatballs, and vice versa when using leaner meats. In the recipe below, I added chopped bacon in it giving an extraordinary flavour.
6. Get your hands dirty
Hand-made meatballs taste better. Always. So, put all the ingredients into a large bowl and use your hands to mix them, spoons just crush the meat when mixing, Another trick to avoid overcooking the meat is keeping in mind that full pieces of ground meat should be visible in the mixture, so mix the meat with the other ingredients just until they combine.
7. Too sticky?
It’s so annoying when you’re trying to roll your little balls and the mixture sticks to your hands. To remedy dry hands, lightly oil them. Also, use a clean surface when you are working with the raw meat; lining a baking sheet pan with parchment to place the meatballs will be very useful for making less mess. S was very happy with this tip.
8. Meatballs are not cakes.
Eggs are used to bind the meat with the others ingredients. That's all. Don’t add to the mixture more than two eggs, we want to get an airy and light meatballs. Usually, we will use one egg per pound of meat. Looking for egg-free meatballs? Well, more than once I've found myself with any egg available, so simply I don't add them. The mixture bind well, just needs a little bit extra care when frying them to avoid crumbling.
9. Size matters.
At least when talking about meatballs. They should be about the size of a golf ball, big enough to just cut in two with a fork. Although depending on the dish you are cooking, you may want to adjust the size for the recipe. For example, when serving them with pasta, I find smaller balls are better.
10. Sear the balls for a nice brown
Before simmering the meatballs in the sauce, sear the meatballs to get a brown crust. This step it is important to handle the meatballs carefully. Heat in a large frying pan 2 tablespoons of olive oil, when the oil is hot, add the meatballs, one to one using tongs trying not to thigh too much. It's important not to add too many meatballs in the same time so you can manage them well. Quickly, turn down the heat to medium hot and move the meatballs to make sure they are brown around all over. Don't stop doing it, otherwise they will burn. This step won't take more than 5 minutes. When meatballs are slightly brown, remove the meatballs from the frying pan using a tongs, and place them on absorbent paper to keep the remaining oil from the meatballs.
11. Make ahead.
Meatballs are the perfect dish to make a day in advance, as sauce often improve in flavour the longer they sit in the fridge. Also, you can make several amounts of plain meatballs and freeze them in an individual containers, that way you will just need to defrost them and simply add the sauce you like for a quick no fuss meal.
So, now it’s time to test your skills and become an authentic “nonna” (grandma in italian) by making these meatballs with a smoky tomato sauce.
Depending on how spice you like, vary the amount of Chipotle or Tabasco, as well as the type of sauce. As you will see, I used chilli tomato sauce because we like hot dishes, but if you are not a big fan of chillies, just add plain chopped tomato sauce instead.
Hope you like the recipe and happy Friday or Saturday night eating !
FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER: BAKED SPICED MEATBALLS
Prep Time: 55 min | Cook Time: 15 min | Serves 6
5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 x 400 g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp chipotle chilli paste or chipotle-flavoured Tabasco sauce
1 tsp light muscovado sugar
2 large fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
250 ml beef stock
200 g smoked streaky bacon, chopped
800 g ground beef
1/3 cup almond flour
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano, plus extra to serve
1 medium free-range egg, beaten
200g buffalo mozzarella, coarsely grated or torn
25g pecorino or parmesan, coarsely grated
- Heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Add the onions, garlic and oregano, cover and cook over a low-medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft and lightly browned.
- Turn off the heat, scoop half the mixture into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool.
- Return the frying pan to a medium heat, add the tomato purée, then stir well. Add the chopped tomatoes, chilli paste or Tabasco, sugar, thyme leaves, beef stock and season with salt and pepper. Then bring to a gentle simmer.
- Add the bacon to the cooled onions with the ground beef, almond flour, fresh oregano, egg, ½ tsp salt and some black pepper. Mix using your hands, then roll into balls about the size of a golf ball.
- Heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in another large frying pan and fry the meatballs in 2 batches until brown all over. Transfer to the simmering sauce using a slotted spoon, stir in and leave to simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- Heat the oven to 240°C.
- Spoon the meatballs and sauce into a large, deep baking dish, making sure the meatballs are well covered.
- Scatter over the grated cheeses, then bake for about 15 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
- Remove, scatter with extra chopped fresh oregano and serve. Enjoy!
By Laura | Lau Sunday cooks