Chosen Bites: Simply does it

To craft the “Perfect Meatball” you’ll need some good quality meat, a moistening panade and a couple of light, wet hands.

The Perfect Meatball 370 (photo credit: Laura Frankel)
The Perfect Meatball 370
(photo credit: Laura Frankel)
Forget the carbs and extra courses. Sometimes, you just want a simple and satisfying meatball, with a tasty sauce. I crave simplicity on weeknights and often, I just want a really tasty, homey meatball with a big dollop of warm and welcoming marinara sauce. I don’t want to over think sides and salads.
The trick to a great meatball starts with the meat. If the meat is too lean, the meatball will be dry and tough. If it is too fatty, the meatball will be greasy.
I like to use either ground turkey or ground beef. To add moisture and a little fat to my mix, I use a panade. A panade is a French term that refers to a starch base with liquid and flavoring added. The point of a panade in meatballs or meatloaf is to add moisture and to keep the meat from shrinking and becoming too tight. A nice loose mixture of wine or chicken stock soaked breadcrumbs with some tasty olive oil and herbs keeps the ground meat from contracting and squeezing out all the juice. Genius.
The final secret to a perfect meatball is not to handle the meat too much. This makes the meatball tough and dense. I want my meatball to be light and moist. I form my meatballs with damp hands. I gently roll the meat mixture between damp hands and then I leave it alone.
The perfect meatball Serves 3
2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane 2 teaspoons toasted fennel seeds 1 generous pinch of crushed red chili flakes ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs 3 tablespoons white wine or chicken stock or water 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano 1 teaspoon Kosher salt and ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper 1 pound ground beef or turkey
1. Add all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, except for the meat or turkey. Mix the panade until combined.
2. Add the meat or turkey and very gently, stir to combine.
3. With wet hands, form the mixture into three large and gorgeous meatballs. Be careful not to press the mixture together.
4. Chill the meatballs while you make marinara sauce. This will help the meat and panade to become “one.”
Marinara Sauce Skip the jarred stuff; you can make your own sauce in just a few minutes. You are in control of quality and salt content when you take a few minutes to put together a quick and inexpensive sauce.
Olive oil 3 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly ½ teaspoons crushed red chili flakes 3 tablespoons tomato paste 1 425g can whole plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands Pinch of sugar, if needed
Several sprigs of fresh thyme Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a medium saucepan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat.
2. Add the garlic and chili flakes. Cook the mixture for about a minute until the garlic is fragrant but not all browned. Add the tomato paste and “fry” the tomato paste for about a minute. This makes the paste taste fresh and fruity.
3. Add the canned tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the thyme and simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and if it needs sugar, add a bit.
4. I like to finish my sauce with a good “glug” of tasty extra virgin olive oil. I turn off the heat and add the oil. The oil makes the sauce fruity and freshens up the sauce. Remember - tomatoes and olives are fruit.
5. Preheat oven to 162 C.
6. Preheat a medium sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium high heat. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides. Place the sauté pan in the oven and cook until the meatballs are cooked through (about 15 minutes).
7. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs to catch all the pan drippings and brown bits and serve.
Chef Laura Frankel is Executive Chef for
Spertus Kosher Catering and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.