I can’t tell you how much I enjoy watching my guests’ eyes light up when I bring out a platter of these meatball sliders. Everyone loves meatballs! And, when they are super tasty with the right texture, then everyone REALLY loves meatballs! And, when you serve them on high-quality locally baked little Italian round rolls, well…it’s just a home run every time!
Just like anything in life, when you want something to come out great you have to put the time in and avoid things that are low in quality. When it comes to cooking, the same rules apply. Any ingredient or item you can learn to make on your own from start to finish will just take your food to a higher level. And, any ingredient you purchase should be the best. For example, real wine instead of cooking wine, imported San Marzano tomatoes instead of those at ½ the price, etc. I love taking a common ordinary dish like meatball sandwiches and making it extraordinary.
So here’s how I make mine. . .
First, you want to prepare a very simple marinara sauce to drop your meatballs in. We are going to start with a simple soffrito. The fewer ingredients here the better. Remember, the first thing we want to taste is the meatball, not an overly seasoned tomato sauce. Pour the extra virgin olive oil into a large pot you will be putting your meatballs in. No need to put the flame on yet. Add the finely minced garlic, onion, coarsely chopped basil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked black pepper directly to the oil and put the flame on medium.
While you are waiting for your soffrito to gently sweat and hardly brown, blend your high-quality San Marzano whole peeled plum tomatoes until they become smooth in texture. My favorite tomatoes are “Pastene” or “Cento” brand. When your soffrito is mostly sweated and slightly browned add the blended tomatoes to the pot. Season the sauce with some more salt and pepper, stir, and let simmer for about 20 minutes then turn it off and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl add your ground veal, beef, and pork. Spread it out on the bottom of the bowl and make a well in the middle so it’s easier to mix your ingredients.
Place your broken-up stale bread in a shallow casserole dish and pour in the milk. Let the bread soak up the milk until it becomes soft. Once the bread is soft, remove it from the dish and add it to the meatloaf mix.
Now add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs, fresh chopped parsley, garlic powder, kosher salt, and fresh cracked pepper. Add a half cup of milk from the casserole dish the bread was soaking in. Start mixing together and kneading thoroughly.
Once the ingredients are mixed together well, it should feel overly moist. At this point dust with some high-quality UNFLAVORED bread crumbs and keep mixing with your hands occasionally dusting with the bread crumbs until the mix is a dough-like consistency. We do not want to make this mix dry. We want to keep it as moist as possible just adding a little breadcrumb at a time until it becomes firm enough to form a meatball.
Once your mix is firm (but very moist) start rolling out your meatballs placing them on a tray to hold them. Remember you want them to fit on the roll nicely so keep the meatball in proportion to the diameter of the bread you are using. The rolls pictured above are from Nicolo’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ. They are about 3 ½ inches in diameter. They call them “Round Party Rolls.” I made my meatballs about 3 oz or so for these rolls.
Once your meatballs are formed, put the marinara back on medium flame and heat up some canola oil in a cast-iron pan. We want the oil to be about 1 ½ inches deep. Once the oil is up to about 350 degrees we are going to brown the meatballs. We are not concerned about making sure the meatballs are cooked through. All we are looking to do here is put a nice brown color on the outside while at the same time creating a firm crusty exterior. The middle of the meatball should remain raw or very rare.
Give the marinara a good stir and put the flame on low. As the meatballs brown, with a pair of tongs, lift them out of the frying pan until the oil drains off, and gently place them directly into the pot with the marinara.
Once all of your meatballs are in the pot we want to avoid stirring. The method I use here is one hour on low heat, one hour flame off, one hour on low heat, and so on. I do this on and off method for about 8 hours or so. It’s a very mellow low key way to stew your meatballs without stirring the pot and letting those uncooked middles soak in the marinara slowly. At the times the flame is off, your meatballs will still be hot when you return to put the flame back on. When the flame is on, always make sure the sauce is cooking on a gentle simmer. If it’s not simmering then the flame is a too low.
After about 8 hours, test one of your meatballs. It should be cooked through, tender but firm and tasty. Place on a small round roll and serve!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Thank you for visiting!
*Some notes about my ingredient choices.
Why do I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic? Well, I feel there is a time and place for dried ingredients. I love the omnipresence of flavor garlic powder (not granulated garlic) creates. It’s mellow, sweet, and unobtrusive to the pallet. In the case of meatballs, I prefer it over fresh garlic.
Regarding supermarket store-bought flavored breadcrumbs. They taste cheap, plain and simple. Plain is the way to go. And, we are only using them to adjust the mix.
Makes 8 sliders
For the marinara . . .
Two 28 ounce cans of high-quality imported San Marzano tomatoes.
4 cloves of finely minced garlic
¼ of a Vidalia onion finely minced
½ cup of fresh chopped basil
1 cup of high-quality extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked pepper to taste
For the meatballs . . .
2 lbs of ground veal, beef, and pork (meatloaf mix)
1 large egg or two small eggs
10 oz of stale Italian bread soaked in whole milk
¾ cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup of fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of good quality garlic “POWDER”, NOT granulated garlic
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Milk for soaking bread
Canola oil for frying