When she’s expecting a house full of people (her kids and grand kids mostly), my Mom makes up a giant pot of her fabulous meatballs in tomato sauce.
That way, no matter what time anyone shows up, she can ask her favorite question, “Would you like something to eat?”
I usually go for a meatball on a plate–tapas style, but everyone loves meatball subs (grinders, hoagies). Or, if we’re feeling patient, we can boil up some pasta and serve it the classic way as a spaghetti and meatball dinner.
Nah, I don’t remember that happening much… those meatballs seem to disappear well before sundown.
Comfort Foods from the Freezer
At this time of year, most of our family meals get inspired by daily foraging trips to the chest freezer in the basement. This week I found bags of tomatoes I’d roasted and frozen in bulk. Besides the fact that they were in the way, frozen vegetables always need using up before canned goods.
Roasting tomatoes is about the best way to maximize the flavor from even marginal tomatoes and so I knew I wouldn’t have to do much to make a yummy tomato sauce.
With a pound of grassfed ground beef from our cow share, I was half way to dinner.
Easier meatballs in tomato sauce
I know my Mom labors over those meatballs, mixing and forming and baking them before adding them to the sauce. A labor of love, of course.
But on a weeknight, I’ve got things to do, and I want to maximize the pots and my time. So, I resorted to a technique I’ve used before: rolling meatballs and dropping them right into a simmer sauce.
Granted, I’m all for browning meats in general, but there are some benefits to this streamlined method:
- the meatballs build more flavor into the sauce
- the meatballs stay moist and tender
- only one pot required
How long to cook meatballs in tomato sauce?
Generally speaking, it takes 25 to 30 minutes to cook the meatballs to the recommended temperature of 165°F all the way to the center. But among other factors, meatball size matters.
Unfortunately, you can’t tell a meatball is fully cooked by looking because the meat colors deceptively before it reaches the right temperature.The only reliable way to gauge doneness is to use an instant-read thermometer.
Or, play it safe and simmer those babies about 10 minutes longer than you think they need.
I make 1-ounce-sized meatballs for the very reason that they cook quicker, but also because we all end up eating less meat. Three meatballs per person is just 3 ounces per serving compared to two (or more!) 2-ounce (or bigger!) meatballs per serving.
So, you can also feed more people with just one pound of ground beef. Or have leftovers for those meatball subs I now can’t stop thinking about.
Even with a comfort food dinner that makes everyone happy, it’s all about balance.
Baby Meatballs in Roasted Tomato Sauce
Make meatballs any day of the week with this streamlined technique by cooking the meatballs right in a simple tomato sauce. Once that's done, you can take this any direction: meatball subs, baked ziti, with sauteed spinach or make a comfort classic: spaghetti and meatballs. I like to make small meatballs so they cook quicker and we all eat less meat.
For the tomato sauce:
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or basil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 1 28-ounce can roasted whole peeled tomatoes or 3 cups homemade roasted tomatoes
For the meatballs:
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound ground beef grassfed
Heat the olive oil in a stockpot, add the onion and cook just until it turns translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.
Add the oregano, marjoram, salt, red pepper flakes, if using, and the tomatoes. Stir well to combine and bring to a steady simmer.
Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to a texture you prefer. I go for slightly chunky. Taste the sauce for seasoning and continue to simmer while you make the meatballs.
Combine the garlic, egg, bread crumbs, oregano, salt and pepper with the ground beef in a mixing bowl. I used food service gloves to mix the meatballs, but you can also use bare hands or a spatula. Be sure to blend the mixture very well.
Use a tablespoon to portion small 1-ounce meatballs, roll them into balls and plop them into the simmering sauce. (For larger meatballs, simply portion to the desired size, roll them into uniform balls and drop them into the sauce.)
Continue portioning, rolling and dropping meatballs into the tomato sauce until all the mixture is used up. Gently stir the meatballs to cover them with the sauce.
Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes (larger meatballs will take up to 10 minutes longer), stirring occasionally before serving or cooling and storing for future use.
Since meatballs freeze so well I like to make a double batch of sauce and meatballs for an even easier dinner down the road.