Updated: Jan 11, 2021
We've all been there. After a long day of carpool and homework and dog walking, you come home to find that you left the freaking chicken in the freezer. Again. Disaster, and probably cereal for dinner, ensues.
My solution to this oh-so-common conundrum has always been to make two meals out of one. Last week I made a huge batch of meatballs and froze some. The fresh meatballs were delicious, the frozen... not so much. They were dry and crumbly. After a little research, I discovered bit of genius from Michele Ragussis, my favorite contestant from season 8 of Next Food Network Star. Her mom's secret to these make ahead meatballs is using milk-soaked bread instead of dry bread crumbs as the binder. This combo adds an incredible juiciness and light texture that will last from freezer to table.
Now let's assume it's dinner time at your house. You preheat your oven to 400, open a bottle of wine (oh, you did that already? Good for you!), and take a breath... what do you have in your kitchen? Sure, you've got pasta that you could toss with some lemon, parsley, and a little of the pasta water- yum. But if you have sandwich bread, you can smash these meatballs halfway through the baking time, top with melty cheese for the last few minutes in the oven, and have killer sliders. What about polenta and a jar of good marinara? Reduce that marinara until thick, slice and fry the polenta, and top with a meatball- talk about fancy. Or maybe you have some rich broth you could heat while the meatballs are baking. Pour the broth into shallow bowls, add your meatballs, then make it rain fresh herbs (basil, parsley, mint) and and a good cheese, then serve with chunks of bread.
Now get cooking you guys, and remember- everyone has a place in the kitchen :)
3 heaping cups of Italian or French bread, torn into cubes
1 cup whole milk
zest of 1 lemon
1 lb 80/20 ground beef (you can substitute ground turkey, but you'll have to double the sausage)
1/2 lb Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 carrot, shredded (use a box grater)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 T black pepper
1 t oregano
1 t thyme
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T tomato paste
2 T parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup water, white wine, or chicken stock
Olive oil and salt
1. Put bread and lemon zest into a large bowl. Pour milk over bread. Add lemon zest and parsley, then squeeze like crazy. You want the texture to be oatmeal-like.
2. Heat a frying pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add olive oil, onion, carrot, celery, and a pinch of salt. Cook until browned, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. If a little sticking happens, that's ok. Stir in oregano, thyme, and pepper.
3. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and balsamic vinegar. Cook, stirring frequently, until vinegar is completely reduced and sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water, stock, or wine. Scrap up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook until most of the liquid is reduced, but no sticking is happening. Allow to cool completely.
4. Pour extra milk out of the bread mixture, leaving just the mushy bread. Add meats, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and veggie mixture. Gently combine with your fingers until just combined (the more you work the meat mixture, the tougher your final product will be). Go ahead and fry a little piece to taste for seasoning. Adjust with salt and pepper as necessary.
5. Using a disher or ice cream scoop, portion out your meatballs. If cooking today, bake in a 400 oven for 20-25 minutes, flipping once. If freezing, place meatballs in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to a zip-top bag or plastic container. Just remember, the more air you leave in the container, the more room there is for freezer burn.