Friday Night Meatballs

Have you guys heard about Friday Night Meatballs? Writer Sarah Grey wrote this awesome article for Serious Eats, and my mom sent it to me sometime last year. Grey launched the Friday Night Meatballs tradition at her house with this Facebook post:

So here's what Joe and I have decided to do, in my 33rd year, to make our lives happier: we are instituting a new tradition we call Friday Night Meatballs. Starting next Friday, we're cooking up a pot of spaghetti and meatballs every Friday night and sitting down at the dining room table as a family—along with anyone else who'd like to join us. Friends, neighbors, relatives, clients, Facebook friends who'd like to hang out in real life, travelers passing through: you are welcome at our table. We'll just ask folks to let us know by Thursday night so we know how many meatballs to make. You can bring something, but you don't have to. Kids, vegetarians, gluten-free types, etc. will all be taken care of. The house will be messy. There might be card and/or board games. There might be good Scotch. You might be asked to read picture books. You might make new friends. We'll just have to find out. This is our little attempt to spend more time with our village. You're invited.

YAAAASSSS, right?? Throw out all the things that so often stand between you and hanging out with the people you love--needing to clean the house, spending a lot of money on food, cooking something impressive and organic and locally-sourced and Insta-worthy. Put the emphasis on what really matters, and the people who come to your table will be on the same page as you. This whole idea just embodies what I want this blog to be about. Cut through the bullshit. Get to the good part. Less with the judging, more with the connecting.

And I hope to institute it in my own home soon, juuuuust as soon as Chance isn't 1) broken, and 2) an unholy terror when new friends come by. And when I do, I've got the perfect recipe, and I want to share it with you!

My mom makes delicious meatballs, and she doesn't use eggs. You'd be surprised how many people use eggs in their meatballs, which sucks for me (having an egg allergy 'n all). They're also relatively low-fat and low-calorie, if you use 90%-lean ground sirloin! Of course, it's the pasta and the cheese that you serve WITH the meatballs that can ruin that whole healthy situation, but I usually use whole wheat pasta and just a sprinkling of cheese to ease the guilt factor a little. So without further ado...

My Mom's Meaty Balls (haaaaahahahah it's my blog, I can call this recipe whatever I want)

(makes ~25 meatballs)

  • 2 lb. ground sirloin (not browned)
  • 1 medium onion, diced small*
  • 1-2 tbsp. bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano (dried)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. grated parmesan (so it's powdery)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine and packed (if you need to use dried parsley, reduce to 1 rounded tbsp., but fresh tastes better)
  • 2 jars sauce (my mom insists on Newman's Own Marinara, but I also love the Trader Joe's Organic Tomato & Basil Marinara--and you get cute mason jars out of it)

*I used to read stuff like this in recipes and go "BUT WAIT, HOW DO I DICE AN ONION??" Fortunately, my mom got me this book called How to Boil Water, and it has been a lifesaver. It answers most of your basic how-to cooking questions with easy-to-understand photos. You can click the photo to purchase on Amazon, but while you're waiting for the Amazon drone to deliver it, I'm gonna go ahead and show you how to dice an onion into small pieces. If you're a genius and already know how to do this, you can skip ahead to the recipe!



How to Dice an Onion

Brush off as much skin as will easily flake off. Use a sharp knife to cut into the end of the onion with the twisty little hat, NOT the end with the root! Cut it ALMOST off, but not ENTIRELY.

You want the last little layer to still be attached to make it easier to peel off that top layer of skin that has the stubborn flaky bits stuck to it.

Peel away the top layer, trying to preserve as much good onion as possible (you're just trying to get rid of the icky top skin layer).

Set it down on the end you just cut off. Use your knife to cut it in half through that little root knot on the other end.

Take half the onion and place it wet side down on the cutting board. Now, you're going to cut a grid essentially into the onion half, WITHOUT SLICING THROUGH THE ROOT KNOT THAT HOLDS IT ALL TOGETHER. Think of that end like a handle.

Slice about five cuts all the way across the onion, from the top all the way to the cutting board. Then, put your knife this way (see above) and cut 3-4 layers (depending on how big your onion is) from bottom up.

I know, it's totally confusing, trust me that book I suggested explains it better. But hopefully this picture illustrates what you should end up with...

Because then you can just start making your final slices off the end of the onion and these PERFECT LITTLE DICED PIECES FALL OFF.

DICED ONION! I was losing light so I did this fast and sloppy, these are not very small pieces. If your pieces aren't small, just go back over them with the knife in a grid pattern, chopping just like you see on TV. You will end up with small pieces.

PRO-TIP: To help with the whole eye-watering issue, light a small (non-scented) candle and set it very close to where you're chopping onions. Careful you don't singe off your eyebrows or burn your fingers, but you want to get the flame near the onion vapors (I think it burns them up before they reach your eyes) (I think)(not a scientist).

OK, on to the main event:

How to Make My Mom's Meaty Balls

1. Put all ingredients in a bowl.

2. Mix everything together really well, using hands if necessary (and it's usually necessary). If you're having a hard time getting the mixture to stick together, add another teaspoon of bread crumbs. Pro-tip: I cannot stand touching raw meat, so I use nitrile (non-latex) gloves I buy on Amazon. Don't make fun of me.

3. Make the meatballs. Grab a small handful of meat mixture--it should fit inside the palm of your hand (basically the size of a meatball you would want to eat). Form a compact ball--not so firm that it's a solid marble of meat, but not so loose it's falling apart. I was able to make 25 meatballs out of 2 pounds of meat.

As you can see, I really should have diced the onion smaller. But it worked and they were delicious so WHATEVER.

4. Bring the marinara sauce to a simmer. After you've formed all the meatballs, add them to the simmering sauce one at a time (do not add each meatball to the sauce as you form the balls, the ones you add first will cook way longer than the final ones). Start on the outside and drop gently in concentric circles.

5. Gently push them down so they are covered in sauce but NOT pushed to the bottom of the pan (or they will burn). The level of the sauce will rise as you add meatballs (DISPLACEMENT!) so you'll realize that you have enough sauce to accomplish this, though at first it will look like your balls will be high and dry. Heh heh.

6. Simmer for 20 minutes without touching the balls, turning the heat down as low as possible while maintaining a simmer (just a little bit of popping bubbles of sauce).

7. After simmering for 20 minutes, stir the meatballs GENTLY with a large slotted spoon. Don't panic if you've burned the bottom. Carefully pour unburned sauce (and balls) into another pot to continue.

Stirring gently...

This is what burned sauce looks like--particularly that crusty chunk up near the top of the frame. 

8. Let simmer for another 30-45 minutes. They should cook for at least an hour total, but you can continue simmering longer if necessary. My mom says they're generally better if you cook for about two hours, but don't burn the sauce!

Et voíla! You've made my mom's meaty balls. Scrumptious. I think this would pair well with the Valréas Cuvée Prestige red or the Mayhall Tibbs Pinot Noir I've reviewed--both available at Trader Joe's!

Also, these freeze/thaw really well, so I would imagine that making a huge batch and saving for multiple Friday Night Meatball events would make prepping for them EVEN EASIER, so you can just relax and focus on family and friendship. Enjoy!

Nothing would make me happier than to see photos from your own Friday Night Meatball events over on the Taking Fountain Community Facebook group page! Also feel free to ask any questions! See you there. :)