Cooking for Clara

Extra Tender Meatballs

by • March 19, 2013 18 Comments

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Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.

Today: The tenderest meatballs for little fingers and mouths.

Clara eating meatballs

Once your baby decides she doesn't want to be fed anymore, you don't have much of a say in the matter. After getting more and more interested in feeding herself, about a week and a half ago Clara started refusing to swallow anything she hadn't put into her own mouth. If we somehow managed to jam a spoonful of orzo or soup in there, out it came.

As she's exerted her independence at the table, we've gotten a lot more expansive with our definition of finger food. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, chicken thighs are great. Ravioli is messy, but it gets the job done. And meatballs are always a hit.

Clara tends to spit out anything she finds dry or tough, so when I first made meatballs for her I turned to my favorite meatloaf recipe, a miracle of tenderness and flavor, for inspiration. These call for ingredients (mayonnaise, Worcestershire, Dijon mustard) you probably wouldn't expect to find in a meatball. As a result, even though they're finished in the oven, denied a warm bath of savory sauce, they stay tender and juicy. Just the way Clara likes them.

Extra Tender Meatballs

Serves 6 to 8

Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground veal
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large egg, lightly beaten

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: meatballs, beef, veal, everyday cooking

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Comments (18)


about 2 years ago LizLemon

These look good! I have been making "baby meatballs" or "baby meatloaf" for my daughter with varying ingredients (often heavy on the veggies and with oatmeal) since she was 8-9 months old. They are always a hit.

A question, we are contending with my daughter's dairy allergy. Any ideas what would be a good substitute for the parm? The parm would be great if I were making meatballs for me and my husband, but need other ideas for cooking for the whole family. Thanks!


about 2 years ago Loretta Workman

If she is allergic only to cow, there are many great goat, sheep and even buffalo cheeses available.
There is a soy cheese line also.
I use a sheep's milk Peccorino Romano from Bel Gioioso (Brand Name) as a substitute for Parmesan.
I have cooked using "my cheese" in meatballs and garlic bread and nobody had any idea until I told them.
Good luck!


over 2 years ago judiu

For tenderness and lightness, add a small can of water chestnuts that you've run thru the fine plate of a Mouli Julienne food mill. Just great!


over 2 years ago Windischgirl

My dad's trick to tender meatloaf is using rolled oats rather than bread crumbs; quick cook are better but either will work. Soak them in the liquids (egg, cream) before blending in. This might work for some folks with celiac. And you are right-on with the gentle handling; Dad learned his meatloaf technique from a butcher back in the 60's. Yum!


over 2 years ago runner115

can i substitute ground pork for veal?


over 2 years ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.



over 2 years ago eva gajzer

Would love to make these for the family. A few of us have Celiac so I'm gonna try this with gluten-free breadcrumbs.


over 2 years ago Reynaul

Great looking recipe! My 19 mnth old would love these! He likes his peas and carrots but he LOVES his meat! :-) Will be making these tonight! Please keep up these great posts that you are doing, I love these ideas!


over 2 years ago lloreen

What an adorable baby! I love that she wears an entire rubber smock to eat - haven't seen that before. Oh, and the meatballs look good too.


over 2 years ago ATG117

Is it the mayo you credit with the moistness? I'm not a big mayo fan, and I'm wondering whether omitting it would defeat the purpose.


over 2 years ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

The mayo definitely helps. Oliver Clark's meatloaf also calls for cream cheese - you could try that instead of mayo...


over 2 years ago phyllis

I make a similar recipe and am not a huge fan of mayo, except a tiny bit in tuna salad. I substitute heavy cream and have used cream cheese as well, but it's not a staple in our house, so, the cream.


over 2 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

Oliver Clark's meatloaf recipe is a revelation - since you shared it, I 've been using it for meatballs as well! Good on Clara -


over 2 years ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

It's an amazing recipe!


over 2 years ago chickenX2

Do you think these would work with lamb? Would you adjust any of the seasoning?


over 2 years ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

I'm sure they would work well with lamb, although they may not be quite as tender. You could try adding some warm spices like cumin and maybe a little fresh mint.


over 2 years ago lastnightsdinner

Look at that mouth full of chompers! She just gets more adorable, and these meatballs sound fantastic. Meatballs are one of Julian's favorites, too, so I'll definitely have to try your version soon - I love the sound of your added flavor boosters here :)


over 2 years ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

Thank you!