Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Meatballs are by definition not a recipe kind of food. You need some meat -- about a pound of it -- and you will make them into balls. They need something to bind them (that is where eggs and breadcrumbs come in), and some seasoning and flavor, especially if you are using poultry meat as I tend to. I like to dump a lot of cheese in mine for extra yum.
While traditionally I fry these mamas, of late I have been cooking them in sauce, which is far less mess and really flavorful in a different way. You can also bake them but that never yields great results for moi.
How to Make Any Meatballs in 5 Steps
1. Get a small onion or some shallots cooking in oil. Once they've softened, let them cool -- they'll be going in your meatballs.
2. In a large bowl, mix up about a pound of dark turkey meat, or pork, or beef (Did I say lean? No, I didn't!) with your cooled onions, a spoonful of tomato paste, a cup of any salty cheese like pecorino, a cup of breadcrumbs (I use panko), a bit of milk, and an egg. If it feels too wet, add more breadcrumbs and/or cheese. I love a ton of cheese, to be candid. If you have some parsley or oregano and people who don't balk at green in their meatballs, you may chop a bit up and add it.
3. Make balls in your hand about the size of two golf balls into one. Please keep them uniform so they cook evenly.
4. Refill your frying pan with a enough oil to cover the balls halfway. Get it going till shimmering. (Alternately, you can simmer the balls in your sauce.) Put up some pasta water. Add the balls one at a time. Do not crowd them. You may well have to do this in batches.
5. Nudge them around the pan with a spatula from time to time. The key here is to keep them from burning, but also to cook them all the way through. You will end up with some that are more crispy than others but just try to control the heat. Pick a sentinel meatball to test for doneness. This should take about ten minutes.
Now cook some pasta, while you remove your balls to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with pasta and red sauce or plain butter and cheese and black pepper.
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Photos by James Ransom