Saturday, September 13, 2014

Italian Meatballs ~ Baked in a Large Batch for Future Convenience

Making your own Italian meatballs in larger batches is an easy task that will save you time later. And they will taste so much better than the hard, store-bought variety. You can of course make them fresh the day you need them, but as I often serve pasta on work nights, I like to make up a batch of 60 or so at a time. Once you do this a few times, you won't need the recipe anymore and you will never go back to store-bought meatballs again!

Julian Prepares To Make Meatballs
The recipe below is really just a loose guide for you to follow if you are new to making Italian meatballs. I like a combination of pork and ground beef, but you may prefer all beef. I use bread or cracker crumbs instead of fresh bread cubes, but use whatever you (or your mother) prefer is likely best. The recipe is quite forgiving regarding exact proportions, and so long as you use some onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, oregano and basil, they will come out fine every time. The two key features of a great meatball are flavor and texture. If either one isn't right, you'll know it.

Wet Bread vs. Dry Crumbs, and Mixing Technique
There is a lot of talk among cooks on this controversial point. Some swear that you must use fresh bread which you've soaked in milk (sometimes heated milk) and then pressed out the excess, otherwise you get tough meatballs. I've never found this to be true, although I don't typically eat the meatballs without cooking them in sauce first, which I would assumes helps to keep them soft. I think the issue of using good quality bread crumbs is likely more important, as is the hand mixing technique. Never use a mixer, food processor or even a big spoon to mix the ingredients. Roll up your sleeves, lightly oil your hands, and use your hands to mix the ingredients and form it into balls. When forming into balls, do not press them too tightly together.

4 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 A-1 steak sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon dry mustard (substitute Dijon)
1-1/2 to 2* cups unseasoned bread or cracker* crumbs
4 cloves minced garlic
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
    or substitute 1/4 cup dry parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 pounds ground pork
3 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

*Note: As you know I use up what I have on hand and often use either saltine or Ritz crackers in place of or in combination with the break crumbs. Start with just a cup and add more as you mix as necessary to get the correct texture. Don't use more than 2 cups for 4 1/2 cups ground meat.

Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Wash and lightly oil your hands and mix the ingredients together until well combined. Do not overwork the mixture. If you are new to this, now is the time to test the recipe. In a small fry pan, make a small meat patty and cook it. Taste it and adjust seasoning as necessary in the remaining meat mixture.

Wash your hands and using a scoop to ensure a uniform size, place the quantity of meat into your hands and roll a loosely formed ball. Do not squeeze the ball together tightly. I use a heaping number 40 scoop for large, pasta sized meatballs as shown here.

Preheat your oven to 400F and set the racks with one empty row between them. Prepare two large cookie sheets (with rims) by lining them foil and coating with cooking spray (Pam) or oil. Space the meatballs evenly on the sheet. You should have about 60 large meatballs when completed. Place the two trays of meatballs into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove, turn each meatball with tongs and return them to the oven, reversing the order of the trays so the lower tray is now in the upper position.

Oiled hands keeps meat from clinging.
Bake for another 15-20 minutes and remove from the oven. They should now be well browned. Let them cool on the trays. While they are cooking, prepare additional trays or plates that will fit in your freezer, by lining them with parchment or spraying with food release. (I use an old foil pan for this.) Move the cooled meatballs onto the prepared trays dabbing them on a paper towel as necessary to remove any solids or fat. Freeze the meatballs in a single layer.  When frozen remove from the tray and place in large zippered storage freezer bags and return to the freezer.

When ready to use, make your sauce and cook the meatballs in the sauce until they are heated through, usually about 30-60 minutes. If you need them sooner, microwave defrost them before adding to the sauce.

Julian's Meatballs Frozen and Ready for Storage

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