Updated: May 17
Meatballs are one of our kids favorite meals. Whenever in doubt, spaghetti and meatballs is a guaranteed hit in our house.
Growing up, my mom always made tomato sauce with both meatballs and sausage. And they were always made together along with the tomato sauce, never separate. We never really liked the sausage as kids, but we always liked the meatballs. I remember my mom starting out by browning the meatballs and sausage in a pan (and sometimes she would just brown up ground beef instead), and then she would add the meatballs and sausage into the pot of tomato sauce to finish cooking.
Once I was in college, I started making my own tomato sauce with meatballs. Since I didn't like the sausage that my mom made growing up, I would leave that part out, but it never tasted the same and I could not figure out why. Most recipes for meatballs call for ground beef, and that's what my mom used, but somehow the meatballs I made never tasted the same as my moms. I couldn't figure out why until one day my mom made Braciole while I was over her house. She never made Braciole growing up, but she discovered this pre-packaged Braciole in the fresh meat area at Wegmans (which is the most amazing grocery store ever; H-E-B in Texas is a close second). Instead of meatballs and sausage, she browned up the Braciole and put that in her tomato sauce. And OMG it was delicious! And then I found a recipe for beef Braciole and decided to make it myself and it didn't taste the same. So I asked my mom what she bought, and she brought me to the store and showed me. And that's when I figured out my problem.
Pork! The Braciole was made with pork, not beef. Now it all made sense. Even though I didn't like the sausage my mom made, the key ingredient was pork which is what added that flavor I was missing in the meatballs. The flavors of the sausage must have melded into the meatballs as they cooked in the sauce. I then started playing around with different proportions of pork and beef to make the meatball that I enjoyed the most. I eventually stopped using beef completely and now use equal parts of ground pork, ground lamb, and ground veal (sometimes I cannot find ground veal, and then I'll substitute ground beef instead). But I learned my lesson - always mix ground pork into your meatballs!
Over the past 20 years I have tweaked and refined this recipe, primarily by looking at other meatball recipes and incorporating bits and pieces into my own, including different ways of cooking them. I think the secret to my recipe is the ground pork, in combination with the right ratio of milk and breadcrumbs and other seasonings, including garlic. My mom never cooked with fresh garlic growing up because it bothered my dad's stomach and he hated the smell. They taste so much better with a bit of fresh garlic!
What I am about to show you in this recipe video is how I make my meatballs today. I don't even brown them first - I just cook them directly in the sauce. The first time I tried this I thought it was a crazy idea (placing raw meat directly into the tomato sauce). But they are the most delicious meatballs I have made to date. And now my kids help me make the meatballs every time. They find it run rolling them out. My daughter doesn't like mixing everything together with your hands, as you'll see in the video.
One more tip for you and then you can watch the video. Always make sure you bring your ground meat to room temperature before trying to mix it all together with your hands. And you really have to use your hands - there is no other way to do this and get everything mixed together the right way. If you pull the meat directly out of the fridge and try to mix it with your hands, its really cold! I did this with my daughter the first time we made them together because we were in a rush and I didn't give the meat time to let warm up, and all she kept complaining about what that the meat was so cold. And its true, it is really cold, and you will have to occasionally stop to warm up your hands!
Video Tutorial (Season 1, Episode 2)
Watch us make meatballs with our children in this video.
Here is a link to the recipe made in this video: https://www.ardolinoskitchen.com/the-kitchen-table/italian-staples/family-secrets-homemade-meatballs
Tips, Tricks, and Essentials
For tips and tricks cooking with children, read our post here: https://www.ardolinoskitchen.com/the-kitchen-table/tips-tricks/cooking-with-children
Looking for kitchen equipment? Like what you see in our videos? Check out our recommendations for your kitchen: https://www.ardolinoskitchen.com/kitchen-essentials