Simple Meatballs

Sometimes when I think about cooking a certain dish for the blog, I check to see if it’s already in there, and realize I’d be reinventing the wheel. Sometimes I find my version is worth a post. And occasionally I realize there’s nothing about this ingredient or dish at all. If it’s a fairly common dish it catches me by surprise, though I suppose then it’s potentially because it’s something most cooks know how to make.

Meatballs fall into the last category, I suppose. But they’re not something I’ve made much. I was vegetarian for years and made tofu nut balls - quite yummy, but a bit of a bother. Once I started eating meat again I tried IKEA’s Swedish meatballs for fun. But I assumed that meatballs are not worth the trouble, or that I would have to figure out some replacement for the oats or breadcrumbs often used as binders. As it turns out I found them not only much less trouble than dealing with tofu, but also easy to hold together without a grain binder.

I read a variety of recipes online and one tip I found helpful is to use half ground pork in the recipe for the best texture. I tried it and I think that it also helps bind the meatballs together. I used egg, too, but even before cooking the meatballs held together well. I used Pig Mountain’s super mild sausage since that’s a favorite with my kids. Use your favorite sausage to change up the flavor, whether super spicy, Italian, or another mild variety. Or use plain ground pork for a completely neutral meatball and add your favorite seasonings.

I used ground beef for the other half of the recipe, but I’m guessing ground lamb would work well, too. I generally like to sauté onion and garlic when I brown beef or sausage so I included those. Chopped parsley and chives add a bit of color and flavor as well.

In addition to changing the meat, there are other options for flavorings. You can change up the fresh herbs, add spices (Google recipes for inspiration and proportion), or use different alliums in place of onions and garlic (such as leeks or shallots).

Sauces are another way to change up the flavor. I made a Swedish-style white sauce with around a cup of milk, a couple ounces of cream cheese, some mashed cauliflower (use the stems for this if you like), and the pan drippings. Yes, it’s rich, but quite tasty, too! Make spaghetti and meatballs with Italian sausage and/or herbs, or a local version of Italian wedding soup (the only other mention of meatballs on the blog).

A great thing to me about this recipe is that the meatballs are cooked in the oven. Once they are on the pan I can set a timer and go on to something else. For me they have reliably cooked through in 15 minutes. The first time I made them I cut the largest one in half to be certain, and I recommend that you do that, too, unless you will be simmering them further in a sauce. I don’t bother turning them and they brown evenly enough for me. You can turn them halfway through cooking if you like.

If you are short on oven space then cooking them on the stove is fine, too. You’ll want to turn them as needed to cook evenly and the time may vary a little.

Rolling the balls is the most time-consuming part of making meatballs. Using a cookie scoop made it much easier, but the one I have made the balls larger than I wanted. I recommend it if you have the correct size. I like 2 tablespoon-sized meatballs, but I’ve seen them as small as 1 teaspoon and as large as 4 tablespoons - that seems awfully big! Be sure to shorten the cooking time for smaller and increase it for larger.

Now that you have the basic ingredients and proportions, make them your own!


Simple Meatballs

1 lb pork sausage or ground pork (I used mild sausage)

1 lb ground beef

1 onion, chopped fine  

3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped fine

2 eggs

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tsp salt, or to taste

Ground pepper to taste

  1. If desired, sauté onions and garlic in ghee, salting to taste. Set aside to cool a little (you don’t want them to cook the eggs and meat when you mix them in).

  2. Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl. I recommend mixing them with your hands.

  3. Roll or scoop into balls, about 2 tablespoons per ball.

  4. Bake 15 minutes at 375°, turning halfway through cooking time if desired. Check for doneness by cutting into the largest ball (if you made yours all the same size, bravo!).

  5. Serve plain, with sauce, or in soup, as desired.  

Makes approximately 48 2-tablespoon meatballs.

Options (see blog post above for more information):

  1. Use different fresh herbs and/or add spices or seasonings. Take into account the flavors in the sausage (mild, hot, Italian, etc.). Use leeks, shallots, or other alliums in place of the garlic and/or onions.

  2. Make a simple white sauce with approximately 1 cup milk, 2 ounces cream cheese, meatball drippings, and enough mashed cauliflower or other neutral veggie to thicken. Salt to taste. Or make a roux with the drippings.

  3. Make smaller or larger and change the cooking time accordingly.

  4. Cook in a frypan on the stove. Turn occasionally and adjust cooking time as needed

  5. Make larger or smaller. Increase or decrease the cooking time as needed.

Printable recipe here