Recently, while vacationing with an Italian chef friend, he mentioned that he learned (from another Italian chef friend of his) a secret to making great meatballs is putting ground Italian Mortadella in with the meat mix.
As soon as we got home, I headed to the market to buy a slab of Mortadella to add to my meat mixture this time for testing. I have a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, so I gave this a try! If you don’t have a grinder, ask your butcher in the meat department.
I have picked-up secrets and tips from various sources over the years, and experimented with them a lot. Here is the evolution of my meatball experiences:
- A long time ago, an Italian mother told me that her meatball secret is to include poultry into her mix – she always has ground turkey or ground chicken in her meatballs, along with beef and pork. I am going to take this to the 4thlevel and have 25% of each: ground beef, pork, chicken/turkey and now Mortadella.
- Yet another Italian mother said she always prepared a slurry in a blender to liquify some of the ingredients before adding them to the meat mixture. It made a big difference!
- From a restaurant chef, I learned the practice of putting the meatballs in a high-sided roasting pan, and then adding enough water to come about 1/3 of the way up the meatballs – then roasting in a hot 450 degree oven.
This recipe is based on 4-pounds of meat, which is a lot, but it’s hard to find each of the 4 meats in smaller quantities in the store. Go ahead and make a bigger batch, then freeze (or give away) leftovers.
Here is the tried-and-true combination of each of these kitchen secrets, and I think it makes the ultimate meatballs!
Prepare a slurry in a blender of:
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 3/4 C Italian parsley, roughly chopped, divided in half
- 6-10 peeled garlic cloves
- 6 Eggs
Pour slurry over the 4 meats: 1 pound each: ground beef, ground pork, ground poultry (turkey or chicken), ground Mortadella.
- 2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- The remaining half of the roughly chopped Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and select a high-sided roasting pan large enough to accommodate your meatballs. Spray the pan with cooking spray or oil lightly.
Place the chicken stock, onion, garlic, half of the parsley, and eggs in a blender or food processor and purée.
In a large bowl, begin combining the ground meats using a fork. Be careful not to compact the meat down, just begin mixing it together partially. Pour the puréed stock mix over from the blender over the meat, add red pepper flakes, salt, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, and the remaining half of the chopped Italian parsley. Continue combining with the fork or spatula until mixture is uniform. Do not over mix. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before forming meatballs.
Put a little olive oil on your hands (or cooking spray) and form mixture into balls a little larger than golf balls. They should be about 1/4 to 1/3 cup each, though if you prefer bigger or smaller, it will only affect the cooking time. I prefer to use a measuring cup or scoop to make the balls evenly sized.
Place meatballs next to each other in the roasting pan. When the pan is full, add enough water to the pan so that the water comes about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up the meatballs.
Bake, uncovered, at 450 for 45 minutes to 1 hour until golden, rotating the pan(s) in the oven half-way through cooking. Cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes in the roasting pan, and some of the liquid will be re-absorbed into the meat as they cool. Even after 15 minutes, they will retain enough heat for serving.
You can move one meatball out of the corner, and use a spoon to baste some of the liquid over the finished meatballs just after coming out of the oven. They will be nice and juicy. Even though they are good enough to eat on their own, you may want to prepare a basic marinara sauce.