There are some foods I see at the grocery store that sometimes make me cringe. One of those things are pre-made frozen meatballs. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve purchased and prepared them myself out of convenience but if at all possible, I’ll try to make them from scratch. What makes me cringe about these pre-made frozen meatballs is the amount of sodium those little morsels are loaded with… not to mention how much fat is rendered out of them when cooked. But when I came across this recipe which I adapted for Cheesy Italian Meatballs & Marinara Sauce, I made sure I made enough to freeze for a few meals. These meatballs are freshly made, full of flavor, easy on the sodium and light on the fat…
I especially like cheese in many things – meatballs included! This meatball recipe involves both Parmesan and mozzarella cheese mixed in so they’re extra cheesy and delicious. Aside from the cheeses used, an interesting part about the preparation of these meatballs is that they are microwaved briefly to cook quickly and to allow some fat to be rendered out. I was skeptical at first (really? microwaving them?) but after tasting these, I just may prepare meatballs like this going forward! They weren’t dried out at all and if anything, pretty juicy and moist. Another bonus about this recipe is the easy and delicious marinara sauce that the meatballs slowly braise in as it cooks in a slow cooker (or oven, if you prepare this as a freezer meal.) However you decide to prepare this recipe, you’ll have a meatball and marinara sauce recipe you’ll make again and again to enjoy now or later. I served my meatballs and marinara over Garlic & Parsley Fettucine.
recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated/Cook’s Country
2 onions, chopped fine
2/3 cup tomato paste (equivalent to one 6 oz can.)
8 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large eggs
1 1/4 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
minced fresh Italian parsley for garnish
Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, tomato paste, 6 garlic cloves, oregano, pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until golden, about 8 minutes.
Transfer half of onion mixture to large bowl; set aside. Add wine to pot with remaining onion mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, then transfer to slow cooker.
Add 1/2 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, sausage, eggs, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining garlic to bowl with reserved onion mixture. Mash with potato masher until smooth. Add beef and cream to bowl and knead with hands until well combined. Form mixture into twelve 2-inch meatballs.
Microwave meatballs on large plate until fat renders and meatballs are firm, 4 to 7 minutes. Nestle meatballs in slow cooker, discarding rendered fat. Cover and cook on low until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours. Skim fat. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.
* To make ahead/freezer meal – Prepare the directions as noted above for sauce however allow the sauce cool and set aside. Prepare the directions as noted above for the meatballs however nestle meatballs in an oven- and freezer-proof baking dish discarding rendered fat; allow to cool. Alternately, you can cool the meatballs and place in a gallon sized freezer bag. Cover the meatballs with the cooled sauce (either in the baking dish or freezer bag). Cover/seal and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost.
If making in the oven – Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking dish with foil and place baking dish on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.
If making in the slow cooker/crockpot – Place contents of freezer bag in a slowcooker/crockpot. Cover and cook on low until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours. Skim fat. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.