Culture

Three Ways to Make Great Meatballs

An ancient, homely and hearty staple, the meatball is a global favourite. A chef, a designer and a photographer teach us their ways, from soup to vegan

By Carmen Hall

6 March 2021
T

he humble meatball first appears in the ancient Roman cookbook Apicius, from the first century AD, and variations on this comforting classic are found worldwide, from the Mexican albóndigas (a light tapas dish) to the Iranian kufteh (a hearty stew). The essence of the meatball is its versatility: once you have got your balls (hand-rolled), your options are infinite. Our three guest chefs here serve up some very different spins for you to try...

Image by Rahel Stephanie

The Professional

Founder of the south London meal delivery and catering service Spoons – “home-cooked food by your local Indonesian auntie” – Rahel Stephanie is well versed in making bakso: a super-easy, noodle-based traditional meatball soup very popular in her home nation.

Ingredients for the meatballs:

500g minced beef (or king oyster mushroom stems finely chopped in a food processor, for a vegan alternative), 1 tbsp fried shallots, 2 tsp fried garlic, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground white pepper , 100g tapioca starch, 1 tsp white sugar, 1 egg, or vegan alternative (ie flax eggs) and 75g ice cubes (to bring moisture to meatball mix).

For the broth:

8 cups beef or veg stock, or water, 4 stalks Chinese celery, knotted, 4 stalks green onion, knotted, 4 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 tbsp salt and 12 tsp ground white pepper.

To complete the dish:

4 servings of cooked rice vermicelli noodles, veg of choice, blanched (ie bean sprouts, pak choi etc), thinly sliced spring onions and deep-fried shallots and sambal or chilli sauce of choice.

Method:

Blend all the meatball ingredients in a food processor until smooth, then take about one tbsp of the meatball mix and roll into a ball. Repeat until the mix is used up. Heat a pot of water and boil the balls until they float to the surface. Drain and set aside.

For the broth, place all the broth ingredients in a pot and bring to the boil. Add the cooked meatballs and turn off heat when it comes back to boil.

To serve, divide the cooked vermicelli noodles and the blanched veg into four serving bowls.

Top with the meatballs and hot broth. Sprinkle with blanched veg of choice, sliced spring onions and deep-fried shallots. Serve white-hot with a side of sambal or chilli sauce.

Image by Estelle Bailey-Babenzien

The New Yorker

A celebrated designer and the co-founder of Noah Clothing, Brooklyn resident Estelle Bailey-Babenzien has lived in NYC for more than 20 years, and knows how to make New York-style classic meatballs just the way her husband Brendon and daughter Sailor like them.

Ingredients for the meatballs:

450g minced beef, 340g sweet Italian pork sausage meat, 12 tsp ground cumin, 12 tsp chilli powder, 12 tsp chilli flakes, 12 tsp paprika, 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed, 1 tsp black pepper, 3 large cloves garlic, minced, Handful chopped parsley, Handful chopped coriander, 1 small red onion, sliced, 4 spring onions, sliced, 4 mushrooms (optional), sliced, 40g panko breadcrumbs, 1 tbsp ricotta cheese, 14 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese and 1 egg, beaten.

For the tomato sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil, 1 red onion, sliced, 2 garlic cloves, minced, 400g fresh tomatoes, 1 tbsp tomato puree and salt and pepper.

Method:

Allow the meats to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, grease a baking tray with high-heat-tolerant oil (I used refined coconut oil). Combine the meats with the seasonings in a large mixing bowl, then add the chopped vegetables, panko breadcrumbs, cheeses and egg (don’t skip the ricotta: the secret to great meatballs is adding ricotta, which makes the meat super-tender). Mix well with your hands and allow the meatball mix to sit for a few minutes. Roll into balls 4-5cm (1.5-2in) in diameter and spread them evenly on a baking tray. Place under a medium heat grill for seven to ten minutes, turning occasionally.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then add onion. After a few minutes, add the garlic, then the fresh tomatoes, then the tomato puree, salt and pepper. Transfer the meatballs to a pan and roll around in the sauce for a minute or so over a medium heat.

Served with cheese ravioli drizzled in a rosemary, sage and thyme butter.

Image by Vic Lentaigne

The Creative

Photographer, director, amateur football player… and now to the list of Vic Lentaigne’s talents we need to add ‘cooker extraordinaire of vegan meatballs’.

Ingredients for the meatballs:

Olive oil, 1 onion, 3 garlic cloves, 2 spring onions, 200g black beans, 125g shiitake mushrooms, 90g oats, 60g walnuts, Pinch chilli flakes, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika and salt and pepper.

For the tomato sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil, 1 onion – sliced, 2 garlic cloves – minced, 500g of small and sweet tomatoes such as cherry or plum (or 250g of fresh tomatoes and half a tin of chopped tomatoes), 2 bay leaves, 1 sprig rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary), 100ml water, salt and pepper and chilli flakes.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200C/180C fan/400F. Roughly chop the onion, garlic and mushrooms and sauté them. Put the rest of the ingredients and the seasoning into a food processor or blender. Once the onion, garlic and mushrooms are cooked, add them to the mixture and blend it. Roll the mixture into balls about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter, and place on a sheet of baking paper. Cook in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes.

While these are cooking, make your tomato sauce. Heat half the olive oil, add the onion to the pan and fry for a few minutes. Add the garlic once the onion has started to cook, then the whole tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary. Fry for a few minutes and then add the remaining olive oil and 100ml of water, then season with salt and pepper and the chilli flakes. Cook until the tomatoes break down and the water has reduced. If your tomatoes are bitter, you can use a dash of balsamic vinegar to sweeten the sauce.

Take meatballs out of the oven, mix with sauce and enjoy.

Lead image by: ClassicStock / Alamy Stock Photo

The Short Stack

For meals that range from simple to luxe, you can’t go wrong with the versatile and trusty meatball – even if you don’t eat meat.

By Carmen Hall

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