Ever try a meatball so tender it made you stop just to take in the flavor? For me, this happened when I was in California. I took a bite of it as I was speaking. The little balls of mixed meat (usually gross, but appropriate here) had been simmering in a slow cooker all day as my friend and I watched them. I didn’t know meat could be so soft. It’s like the moment I found out about chewy Chips Ahoy. It was life-changing.
Unlike my friend’s mom did in California, I didn’t use three types of meat and I didn’t use a slow cooker. Still, this recipe for meatballs will produce some of the tastiest and tenderest meatballs you have ever sunk your teeth into. Seriously, my 11-month-old niece was eating them. You’ll find that the magic, as usual, lies in the fat and carbs.
Tender Pancetta Meatballs
- 32 ounces of ground beef (85/15 fat)
- 1 ½ pounds of spaghetti (or pasta of choice)
- 4 ounces of diced fatty pancetta
- 4 slices of fresh white bread
- 1 ½ large yellow/white onions, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 6 tablespoons of butter
- 2 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 2 tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoon of minced fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper
- In a large bowl, break the white bread up into very small pieces. If the crusts are dry, discard them.
- In a food processor, puree 1 onion (saving the other half for later), 3 cloves of garlic, and 3 tablespoons of melted butter.
- Add the onion and garlic mixture to the bread and combine. This and the pancetta will help keep the meatballs soft as they cook.
- Add ground beef, pancetta, remaining garlic, and ½ of the oregano, rosemary, and thyme to the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. I used approximately about 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
- Use clean hands to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.
- Form the meatballs into the size of your liking. I made the meatballs about the size of large sliders. To make them this big, you just have to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- In a large pan, heat half the olive oil on high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add enough meatballs to cover half the surface area of the pan. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan because overcrowding will prevent meatballs from searing properly.
- Cook the meatballs for 3-4 minutes per side (or 2 minutes per side if they’re smaller), and move the finished meatballs onto a plate until all meatballs are cooked.
- While the meatballs are searing, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and remaining olive oil in large pot. Add the other half onion (chopped) and 3 cloves of minced garlic into the pot. Cook over medium-high heat until the onions and garlic begin to brown. Add the remaining ½ of oregano, rosemary, and thyme, and cook for an additional minute.
- Add 2 cans of tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper into the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Place the seared meatballs in the sauce and allow it to continue cooking. For larger meatballs like the ones pictured, it’ll take about 15-20 minutes for the meatballs to fully cook after the sauce has come to a boil. For smaller meatballs, 10-15 minutes.
- While the meatballs are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the spaghetti and cook to al-dente, following the instructions on the package.
- Drain the pasta and put it on a plate with the meatballs and sauce. Then, garnish the top with parsley.
Photos by Josh Guirguis
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