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Meatballs–the Dish that Spans Cultures

Meatballs are the epitome of comfort food. Lucious rounds of flavored meat, simmered in sauce; you can't go wrong. The origin of the meatball is unknown. We see meatballs in cuisines across the globe. So what is most traditional? It's what grandma makes. Middle Eastern Koftas, Spanish Albondigas, Italian Polpettes; these are all meatballs. Different types of meats, different herbs/spices, binders; whatever grandma says, is traditional. It may seem daunting, there are so many variations, but this is the fun of cooking. Experiment with different recipes and find the one that best suits your palate.

A few tips: The great thing about making meatballs is that they are affordable and straightforward. I like to use a mix of meats; beef and pork. I find adding a bit of fatty ground pork to the lean ground beef gives the meatball a lighter texture and balanced flavor. One of my favorite techniques is to soak stale bread in warm milk; using this as a binder gives the meatball added fat (fat is flavor) and an amazing fluffy texture from the soaked bread. I like to sear my meatballs before they simmer in the sauce. Searing meat gives us texture and one more layer of flavor. I love biting into a seared piece of meat; the initial crunch as I sink my teeth in then the soft interior. It is so satisfying! Lastly, I give full permission to use jarred tomato sauce if that is what works for you. Please remember these tips are merely suggestions for Nonna is always right.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

For the Meatballs

⅓ cup whole milk

2 slices of stale bread, torn

1 lb ground beef

½ lb ground pork

½ onion, minced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp kosher salt

Fresh cracked pepper

Oil for cooking

Heat milk in a small pot until small bubbles form. Be sure to swirl the milk in the pan so it doesn't scald. Pour warm milk over torn bread and let stand until the bread has absorbed the liquid, about 5 minutes. With a spoon, stir into a paste (this is called panade).

In a medium bowl, combine the meats with the onion, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to gently stir then add the bread paste. Treat the mixture as delicately as you can. We don't want to overmix; this will make the meatballs dense. Once combined, use your hands to portion mixture into even-sized balls, about the size of a golf ball. Place the meatballs on a plate or tray—heat about ¼ -inch of oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot and shimmering, place the meatballs in the pan. Sear on high heat until brown and crispy. Gently roll meatballs to sear all around. Remove the browned meatballs from the pan. In a separate pan, heat tomato sauce. Place seared meatballs in the warm sauce and simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Serve with your favorite bread or pasta.

For the Sauce

2 TBSP olive oil

½ onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, smashed whole

28 oz canned tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

1 bay leaf



Place a medium saucepan on medium heat when the pan is warm add the oil. Look for the oil to move fluidly in the pan. At this point, add the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt. Saute until the onions are tender and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture up to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened—season with salt and pepper. You have the option to blend smooth or leave as is.


Headshot of Liza Greifinger, Chef and Instructor
Chef Liza

Chef Liza Greifinger

Your Guide to Our Culinary Trip Around the World

Growing up in New York, surrounded by the flavors of the world, Liza developed a love for food and cooking. After a fulfilling career in outdoor education, she decided to explore her passion for food. Liza studied at The French Culinary Institute and then trained with some of the top chefs in New York City before being drawn to the mountains of Colorado. She joined the team at Food Lab, in Boulder, in the spring of 2016. There she teaches cooking skills and technique to all ages as well as curriculum development for the educational programs.

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