Weeknight Cooking

Extra Tender Meatballs

March 19, 2013

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

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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

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  • LizLemon
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    eva gajzer
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


LizLemon April 27, 2013
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!
Loretta W. May 28, 2013
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!
judiu March 24, 2013
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!
Windischgirl March 24, 2013
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!
runner115 March 24, 2013
can i substitute ground pork for veal?
Merrill S. March 24, 2013
eva G. March 24, 2013
Would love to make these for the family. A few of us have Celiac so I'm gonna try this with gluten-free breadcrumbs.
Reynaul March 20, 2013
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!
lloreen March 19, 2013
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.
ATG117 March 19, 2013
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.
Merrill S. March 19, 2013
The mayo definitely helps. Oliver Clark's meatloaf also calls for cream cheese - you could try that instead of mayo...
phyllis March 24, 2013
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.
Kitchen B. March 19, 2013
Oliver Clark's meatloaf recipe is a revelation - since you shared it, I 've been using it for meatballs as well! Good on Clara -
Merrill S. March 19, 2013
It's an amazing recipe!
chickenX2 March 19, 2013
Do you think these would work with lamb? Would you adjust any of the seasoning?
Merrill S. March 19, 2013
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.
lastnightsdinner March 19, 2013
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 :)
Merrill S. March 19, 2013
Thank you!