Weeknight Cooking

Extra Tender Meatballs with Tomato and Zucchini

September 17, 2013

Merrill's baby Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray. 

Today: Extra tender meatballs, with sauce on the inside.

Extra Tender Meatballs, Redux on Food52

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Meatballs are a hot item in our house: Clara can eat them with her fingers, it's easy to make a lot of them, they freeze well, and they're great with everything from pasta to mashed potatoes to corn. I can make them with beef, pork, veal, turkey, chicken -- not to mention endless combinations of these.

For a while, I thought I'd landed on the ultimate formula for savory, super-tender meatballs -- a little mayonnaise here, some Worcestershire sauce there, along with a few other things.

More: Extra Tender Meatballs, the Original Version

Extra Tender Meatballs, Redux on Food52

But after I published my recipe, a friend wrote to me with her tried-and-true method: she cooks down onion, tomato and zucchini, cools this, and then folds it in with the meat. In other words, her meatballs have the sauce on the inside! I tried it myself, and the brilliance of her techniqe was confirmed. When you cook the vegetables down, their natural sweetness amplifies, giving the meatballs a depth of flavor, while the residual juices from the tomatoes and zucchini keep them soft and juicy.

Extra Tender Meatballs, Redux on Food52

Meatballs with Tomato and Zucchini

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cups chopped tomato (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1 pound ground chuck (85% lean)
1 pound ground veal
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 large egg, lightly beaten

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

Photos by James Ransom

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


Hope September 19, 2013
and a tiny bit of horseradish as well...just a bit of zip :)
tastysweet September 18, 2013
If you use canned tomatoes, do you drain the juice and just use the tomatoes?
Merrill S. September 18, 2013
You can use some of the juice as well -- just make sure you cook them down so the veggies aren't too wet!
HalfPint September 17, 2013
I use that cooked vegetable technique for my meatloaf too. Makes a very tasty moist and tender turkey loaf.
ChefJune September 17, 2013
I think you have the cutest baby ever. Have you signed her up with a modeling agency yet? She could pay for her own college before she's six.... ;)
Merrill S. September 18, 2013
You're too nice! :)
dymnyno September 17, 2013
Ditto! She is very photogenic too.
aargersi September 17, 2013
How does that kid keep getting cuter? It's ridiculous! (in a good way of course :-)
aargersi September 17, 2013
oh and PS - I add shredded carrot to meatballs too which is pretty yummy
Merrill S. September 18, 2013
I'll have to try that! And thanks for the sweet words about Miss C.