MEEEAATBAAAAAAAAAALLS! Uh, yep, that does get yelled around my house fairly often. Usually in a hideous faux-Italian accent that would embarrass Luigi. But, hey, it makes me laugh
For me to bother making meatballs on a weeknight I either have to (a) be begged and (b) cut a corner or two with the sauce making part – I simply lack the patience to simmer a marinara for ages when I’m already hungry. So I cheat a little. What? We all do somewhere in the kitchen! The easiest way I’ve found to give a bland tomato sauce a bit of a kick is to blend it with a little bit of salsa; that way there’s no need to chop any extra veggies or flounder about looking for seasoning. I figured if I was going to go that direction flavor-wise, it made sense to pack the meatballs with lots of fresh cilantro to complement that spiciness from the sauce.
Now, I did start off with an additional step that most sane people will skip: I sauteed my onions a little before adding them to the meat mixture. I personally can’t stand the raw taste that seems to hang around even in a cooked meatball / meatloaf without doing this. But most people don’t care. You can judge me. I won’t mind.
What I do is dice them up very finely and just saute them long enough that they stop having that “raw” smell to them; then I chuck them on a saucer and throw them in the freezer to cool down for a minute or two while I get everything else ready. Ignore my craziness.
So, into a large enough bowl to mix 1lb of beef, I add my onions, almond flour, tomato paste, an egg, seasonings and fresh chopped cilantro. Then I slap on a pair of gloves and mix it all together, trying not to knead or overwork the mixture. I usually get 12-13 meatballs out of a batch this size as I weigh out 1.5 oz of mixture for each.
These then go on a foil lined baking sheet and into a 400F oven on the middle shelf for 15 minutes to cook out any grease and juices – I don’t want either of these things going into the tomato sauce later. This is an easier way of browning the meatballs than frying them in batches, too.
While the meatballs are browning, I make my sauce. My sneaky salsa sauce of shame. Don’t tell anyone. Personally, I prefer my “spaghetti” sauce on the thicker side of things so that it clings nicely to the meatballs. One of the ways in which I speed this process up is by straining any extra liquid from my tomato sauce through a fine mesh sieve to give it a consistency much more like passata. Feel free to skip this step if you prefer!
I add the tomato sauce and salsa to the pan.
Then mix the two and simmer it over a low heat to thicken while the meatballs finish up. If I have time here, I start to make my “spaghetti”, julienning a couple of zucchini to pan fry later. Don’t worry if you don’t – there will be time later!
When the meatballs are ready, I remove them from the baking tray and the ick that’s left behind
Then they go into a small, deep baking dish. Look, no gunk! Switching pans like this means there’s no greasy residue in your meatballs later. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Plus, you don’t even have to wash the formerly foil-lined pan!
I tip the thickened sauce over them and return them to the oven for another 10 minutes. While they’re in the oven doing their thing, I finish julienning the zucchini (avoiding the middle / seeds) and heat a pan over a low-medium heat with a little oil. I add the zucchini and some seasoning, then stir fry them until they soften enough to twirl around a fork. By this time, the meatballs should be done!
Aaaaand everything can go on a happy plate together. The end. Until you discover the leftovers in the fridge the next day. They’re even better then!
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