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Basic Meatballs Recipe

Course: Main Course, Tapas/Small Plates
Total Time: Under 1 Hour
Skill Level: Easy
Cost: Inexpensive
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 Basic Meatballs

Photo by: Joseph De Leo

You need not cook meatballs in a skillet. Instead, try roasting them (omit the butter or oil) in a 375°F oven, shaking occasionally, until they are nicely browned, twenty to thirty minutes. Then pour off any excess fat and finish as in Steps 3 and 4, below.

The cream addition is not essential, but it is a pleasant and very traditional touch (if you’re looking to cut the fat, see the lean variation below). Serve these with crusty bread, noodles, or rice.

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • ½ cup plain bread crumbs
  • ½ cup milk or cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive or vegetable oil
  • ½ cup minced onion
  • 2 pounds mixed ground meats: beef, veal, lamb, and/or pork
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Pinch ground allspice or cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or water
  • 1 cup half-and-half or cream (optional)
  • Minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish


1. Soak the bread crumbs in the milk until the milk is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion in it, stirring, until it is softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

2. Mix together the bread crumbs, onion, meat, salt, pepper, parsley, egg, and allspice or cinnamon. Shape into meatballs 1½ inches in diameter. Melt the remaining butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the meatballs (you may have to do this in batches; if so, it may be easier to use the oven; see headnote) and cook, shaking gently every couple of minutes. Adjust the heat so that the meatballs brown but the fat does not burn, and cook until they are brown allover. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball reads 160°F.

3. Remove the meatballs to a platter and keep warm while you prepare the sauce: Pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the fat, then stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Over medium-high heat, add the stock or water and cook, stirring, until the liquid is reduced by about half (If you choose not to use the cream, pour this sauce over the meatballs and serve.)

4. Stir in the cream, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the sauce is smooth, golden brown, and slightly thickened. Pour over the meatballs, garnish, and serve.

Leaner Meatballs: Omit bread crumbs, milk, and egg; increase onion and parsley to 1 cup each. Grill, broil, or bake at 400°F until done, 15 minutes or less. Serve without sauce.

Spiced or Herbed Meatballs: To either the master recipe or the lean variation, add 1 tablespoon ground cumin or curry or chili powder; or add 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice; or substitute fresh dill, chervil, or chives for some or all of the parsley.

© 1998 Mark Bittman

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

This recipe serves 8, includes 1/2 teaspoon of added salt, and does not include optional cream.

468kcal (23%)
59mg (6%)
6mg (10%)
90mcg RAE (3%)
138mg (46%)
416mg (17%)
15g (74%)
39g (60%)
3mg (16%)

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