500g beef, veal or pork meat
1 medium egg
25 ml whole milk
80g red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
15g finely chopped parsley
The first consideration is on the meat that should be used: I indicated beef, veal or pork, as they can be used alternatively or together, or two out of three can be used – most people do not have an issue with beef, but veal is rather expensive and hard to find in the UK, and some do not eat pork and not only for religious reasons.
I haven’t included lamb because (apart from being generally quite fatty), it’s got a very strong flavour and you should use it only if the other ingredients of choice work well with it.
However, rather than the type of meat, as the choice depends on your taste and circumstances, I would like to focus on the amount of fat that the meat should contain.
Health-conscious people will be tempted to buy lean or even extra lean mince, but the result will be that your meatballs will be quite dry and not very pleasant.
On the other hand, choosing meat with a very high fat content will give you very nice meatballs but will have a bad effect on your waistline (and cholesterol level etc.).
I found out that a good compromise is a mince with a fat content of 10-15%, that will keep your meatballs moist and won’t hit you too hard on the calories side. If you are buying pre-packed mince, the fat content per 100g will be clearly stated on the label (they even show it on a pie chart nowadays), otherwise you can ask your butcher.
Once that the meat has been chosen, we can focus on the other ingredients: onion, garlic and parsley will add some flavour; these meatballs are quite neutral because I am mainly explaining the process, but I will provide more recipes that include other ingredients, herbs and spices to offer more variety.
The other ingredients are needed to give the right texture: the milk will make your meat softer, the eggs, as their proteins coagulate during the cooking process, will make the meat balls firm and the breadcrumbs will make the mix less sticky and easier to work, as well as firming the meatballs up as they cook.
The preparation, once that all the ingredients have been measured (you won’t need to measure them every time, but I suggest you do it at least the first times, till you get a bit of practice) is very simple:
- Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl (if you have a planetary mixer you can use the K-beater)
- Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes
- Using the palm of your hands, make little balls
Once made, the meatballs can be cooked in many different ways, the most popular one in Italy probably being in tomato sauce.
To do that, simply bring the tomato sauce to a simmer and gently place the meatballs in it, shaking slightly the pan but without stirring at the beginning or they will break. They will be ready in 15 minutes