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Video: Crowd-pleasing meatballs made three ways

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    >>> today's cooking school is brought to you by hellmann's.

    >>> this morning on today's cooking school , meatballs, not one, not two, three ways. easy to make and everybody loves them.

    >> and here to get the ball rolling is chris kimball. host of "america's best kitchen" and one of the authors of "cook's illustrated cookbook."

    >> not all balls are created equal. let's start with our first, this is the traditional recipe, spaghetti and meatballs, it's a little different.

    >> we're doing 40 meatballs, we usually roast them in the oven. there's a few trick, we're using a panade, bread soaked in milk. an italian grandmother would always do that with any kind of meat product. keeps the meat nice and moist.

    >> we add it to our meat, what kind of meat?

    >> two pounds of ground meat , pork, beef and parsley, and pancetta.

    >> and that adds flavor.

    >> and angelica.

    >> did has a dense texture, a sticky hard texture and a teaspoon and a half of gelatin and it gives you a nice texture and it helps to retain some moisture. now we're going to use my favorite cooking tool. yes. you just mix this uppen and we're going to make fairly large meatballs, they go into a 450 oven for about 30 minutes .

    >> so they also are on a rack, which means that they cook nice and evenly.

    >> the sauce?

    >> the sauce has an interesting ingredient. it uses six cups of tomato juice , which has a much nicer flavor. so the meatballs come out. they go into the sauce. we put it into the oven for about an hour. and the meatiness comes out of the meatballs and flavors the sauce, which is a classic italian cuisine .

    >> tamron you're up.

    >> an interesting twist, chicken meatballs and spaghetti.

    >> the problem is that the texture gets a little soft. it's a good idea to refrigerate them once you make them. for about an hour so they stick together and they put them in and we're going it fry them.

    >> why frying, does it add more flavor?

    >> first of all, we only have a few. with 40, it would have been hard. and it gives a nice texture and helps them hold together.

    >> you cut them small as opposed to the other, why?

    >> it's chicken and you would like bigger chicken meatballs?

    >> yes.

    >> she feels shorted here.

    >> i have a hearty appetite.

    >> they are a little small, but i could eat more of them.

    >> just wait until we get to al.

    >> when you're cooking with chicken, are you worried that it's going to a dry meatball?

    >> no, we have the panade, the bread soaked in milk.

    >> how long do you fry them?

    >> ten minutes.

    >> and we'll finish up with a little sauce, a little garlic, a little bit of parsley.

    >> finish up our sauce here.

    >> the sauce there. put them in.

    >> and we finish with the sauce, they go into the sauce for five minutes.

    >> al is waiting for you.

    >> here we go. we're making cocktail meatballs?

    >> abondegas.

    >> if someone said that to you, you would hit them in the face.

    >> it's tough to do a segment with you, i have to say that.

    >> why?

    >> because you're so funny.

    >> what's the combination?

    >> beef and pork, very similar. we'll make a quick sauce which we made with a little bit of onion, a little tomato, chicken stock and a little bit of white wine . we cooked it for about five minutes, transfer these into the sauce to finish. then we have a piccata.

    >> a piccata?

    >> a piccata, traditional spanish cooking, thicken sauce, flavor them, parsley, chopped almonds, a little bit of garlic.

    >> and saffron.

    >> and we've got a bonus for that.

    >> gotcha.

    >> and we mash it up and put it in.

    >> and you end up with something like this.

    >> thank you, chris kimball, thank you so much. if you want the recipes, you can find them on today.com and

TODAY recipes
updated 2/8/2012 5:02:12 PM ET 2012-02-08T22:02:12

Recipe: Spaghetti and chicken meatballs

  • 2 slices white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or 6 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 pound ground chicken mixed with ground chuck
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 small clove garlic , minced (1 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil for pan-frying (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • Smooth Tomato Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounce)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves , minced
  • Table salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese fresh, grated

For the meatballs: Combine bread and buttermilk in small bowl, mashing occasionally with fork, until smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes.

Place ground chicken, cheese, parsley, egg yolk, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste in medium bowl. Add bread-milk mixture and combine until evenly mixed. Shape 3 tablespoons of mixture into 1½-inch-round meatball. (When forming meatballs use a light touch. If you compact the meatballs too much, they can become dense and hard.) You should be able to form about 14 meatballs. After shaping meatballs place on platter, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Pour vegetable oil into 10- or 11-inch sauté pan to depth of ¼ inch. Turn flame to medium-high. After several minutes, test oil with edge of meatball. When oil sizzles, add meatballs in single layer. Fry, turning several times, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes (see illustration below). Regulate heat as needed to keep oil sizzling but not smoking. Transfer browned meatballs to plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

Technique: Browning meatballs
We found that meatballs taste best when browned evenly on all sides. Their round shape makes this a challenge. Our solution is to brown the two broader sides of the meatballs first and then use tongs to stand the meatballs on their sides. If necessary, lean the meatballs up against one another as they brown.

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in large pot for pasta.

For the sauce, discard oil in pan, leaving behind any browned bits. Add olive oil along with garlic; sauté, scraping up any browned bits, just until garlic is golden, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, bring to boil, and simmer gently until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in basil; add salt and pepper to taste. Add meatballs and simmer, turning them occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Keep warm over low flame.

Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water. Cook until al dente, drain, and return to pot. Ladle several large spoonfuls of tomato sauce (without meatballs) over spaghetti and toss until noodles are well coated. Divide pasta among individual bowls and top each with a little more tomato sauce and 2 to 3 meatballs. Serve immediately with grated cheese passed separately.


We found that they must be refrigerated for an hour before being fried to keep them from sticking to the pan or falling apart.

Serving Size

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe: Classic spaghetti and meatballs

  • Meatballs
  • 21/4 cups (6 ounces) panko bread crumbs
  • 11/2 cups buttermilk (see note)
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped fine
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 11/2 cups)
  • 6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 11/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin, dissolved in
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 11/2 cups grated onion from 1 to 2 onions (see note)
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 6 cups bottled tomato juice
  • 3 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons dry white wine
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh basil leaves
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

For the meatballs: Place wire racks in 2 foil-lined rimmed baking sheets. Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine bread crumbs and buttermilk in large bowl and let sit, mashing occasionally with fork, until smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes.

Add eggs, beef, pork, prosciutto, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, gelatin mixture, 11/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to bread-crumb mixture. Using hands, gently mix until thoroughly combined. Lightly form about ¼ cup mixture into 2-inch round meatball (about 2 ounces); repeat with remaining mixture to form approximately 40 meatballs.

Spray wire racks with nonstick cooking spray and place meatballs, evenly spaced, on racks; roast until browned, about 30 minutes, rotating trays from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.

For the sauce: While meatballs roast, heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato juice, crushed tomatoes, wine, 1½ teaspoons salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

Remove meatballs from oven and lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Gently add meatballs to sauce, cover pot, and place in oven. Cook until meatballs are firm and sauce has thickened, about 1 hour.  

Meanwhile, bring 10 quarts water to boil in 12-quart pot. Add pasta and 2 tablespoons salt to boiling water; cook until al dente. Drain pasta and return it to cooking pot.  

To serve: Stir basil and parsley into sauce and adjust seasoning with sugar, salt and pepper. Toss pasta with 1½ cups sauce until lightly coated. Serve pasta, passing meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated Parmesan separately.


One cup of plain yogurt thinned with ½ cup milk can be substituted for the buttermilk. Grate the onion on the large holes of a box grater. The ingredients in this recipe can be reduced by two-thirds to serve 4.

Serving Size

Serves 12

Recipe: Cocktail meatballs in tomato-saffron sauce

  • For meatballs
  • 2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 1/2 ounce Manchego cheese or Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 medium garlic clove , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For sauce
  • 1 small onion , minced
  • 1 small tomato , cored, seeded, and chopped medium
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • For picada
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped almonds
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

We like to use a nonstick skillet in this recipe because it prevents the tender meatballs from sticking to the pan and breaking apart. Serve with toothpicks or cocktail forks. This recipe was published in our cookbook, "The Best International Recipe."

For the meatballs: In a large bowl, mash the bread and milk together to form a smooth paste. Add the ground meats, Manchego, parsley, yolk, garlic, salt and pepper to the mashed bread and mix until uniform. Shape the mixture into 1/2-inch-round meatballs (1 teaspoon per meatball; you should have 35 to 40 meatballs).

Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half of the meatballs and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, reducing the heat if the oil begins to smoke.Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the oil left in the skillet.

For the sauce: Add the onion to the oil left in the skillet and cook over medium heat, scraping up any browned bits, until very soft and lightly browned, 6 to 9 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth, wine, and bay leaves, then carefully return the meatballs to the skillet. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are just cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes.

For the picada: While the meatballs cook, prepare the picada by mashing together the parsley, almonds, garlic, saffron, paprika, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch pepper. When the meatballs are cooked, remove and discard the bay leaves. Stir the picada into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the meatballs and sauce to a serving dish and serve immediately.

Serving Size

Makes 35 to 40 meatballs

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