Meatballs 201: The Application
On top of spaghetti,
All covered in cheese.
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.
That is meatball poetry, you guys. Well, actually, it is part of my Girl Guide “camp song” playlist, and further evidence of the fact that I probably shouldn’t have been able to make any friends until I was 22 years old or so. When I promised you that meatballs were a time-saver, I could practically feel a few of you shaking your heads with mistrust and disdain. After all, meatballs are great, right? But what do you do with them jf you don’t feel like playing Lady and the Tramp over a bowl of noodles for two?
Meatballs have a multitude of uses, my friend, and I am here to show you naught but a few. Whether you only have 2 minutes or 20, a stash of prepared meatballs on hand are worth their weight in gold (especially if gold tasted like ground beef) and are equally at home on a party platter as a casual night in with friends.
When you need a quick cocktail appetizer for your next party, nothing beats a steaming tureen of meatballs in a spicy-sweet sauce and a pile of toothpicks.
It may seem almost like a cheat to pile your frozen meatballs into a crockpot with a bottle of Diana sauce and tote that to the party, but I can assure you that it is not. Diana‘s secret ingredient is crack-cocaine, and I can assure you that the fussy appetizer you were thinking of slaving over will be relegated to the back of the buffet table as soon as people see that there are meatballs in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce to be had.
- Diana sauce (any variety)
- Your favorite BBQ sauce
- equal parts chili sauce and grape jelly
An awesome barbecue sauce is lurking in your pantry right now, if you just know where to look. I like to make a basic sauce and then spice it up with whatever is handy, such as any one of the additives listed below. A quick stir together and 20 minutes of simmering on the stove, and a delicious homemade cocktail meatball sauce is yours.
- 1.5 cups ketchup
- 1/2 cup beer or water
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- Classic: molasses, onion powder, garlic powder, Dijon
- Spicy Middle Eastern: cumin, cayenne, pinch of cinnamon, pomegranate molasses
- Smoky BBQ: smoked paprika (or liquid smoke), cumin, Dijon, Worcestershire
- Honey Baby: 3/4 cup honey, Dijon, red chili flakes
- Chipotle: Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, garlic powder. Worcestershire
- Bourbon BBQ: few tablespoons bourbon, apple jelly, mustard
- Coca Cola: 1 cup Coke (omit water), soya sauce, allspice. Worcestershire, molasses
- Red Eye: Espresso powder, cayenne, Worcestershire, molasses
- Great Canadian: Maple syrup, smoked paprika, Dijon
- Korean BBQ: soya sauce, gochujang (or sriracha), minced green onion, garlic
The Swedish Chef
In my opinion, my mother, who just happens to be a for-real-no-kidding Scandinavian (blond hair and all!), makes the best Swedish meatballs. I am fairly certain that she got the recipe out of an old dog-eared and lovingly stained hardcover Finnish cookbook, but over the years she has made it her own. The creamy sauce, with just a dash of allspice and the richness of pan scrapings, was ladled over snowy white whipped potatoes with a side of honeyed carrots. Or, at least, that’s what she did on the “fancy” nights, like if we were having company or it was a special occasion. The rest of the time, it was a can of condensed soup and the meatballs were slapped over quickly boiled egg noodles on a cold plate…but were still utterly delicious.
Saucy meatballs can be served over your favorite starch, be it rice, buttered noodles, mashed or boiled potatoes, or even toast.
Grab a can of Campbell’s condensed Cream of Mushroom soup. Add slightly less water than called for to make soup so that the sauce is nice and thick. Simmer the meatballs. Done.
Melt some butter (or bacon grease) in a frying pan over medium high heat and brown a pound of sliced mushrooms until they are tender. Remove the mushrooms and set them aside. Add another knob of butter to the same pan and sprinkle with 1/4 cup flour, stirring until the flour starts to darken slightly. Slowly pour in 1.5 cups of beef stock, whisking constantly to avoid clumps. Pour in a cup or so of milk and simmer until you reach a saucy consistency. Thin with a touch more stock or milk as you wish. Season well with salt and finely ground white pepper as well as a pinch each of nutmeg and allspice. Slide the mushrooms and meatballs into the sauce until the meatballs are heated through.
When you only have a half a bag of meatballs left kicking around at the back of the fridge, and that’s not enough to feed a family of four but your family of four really needs feeding, it sounds to me like a good time for a meatball soup. Soup is a great way to stretch your food budget, or your meat budget at the very least, and with the help of a few liters of stock (purchased or homemade) you can have a meal in minutes.
Heat a litre of beef stock in a pot and add 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables (you know the one; corn, peas, small square chunks of carrots…) and a large can of diced tomatoes. Add as many meatballs as you wish and season with salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning. A splash each of Tabasco and Worcestershire would not be amiss.
Italian Wedding Soup has got to be my all-time favorite use for meatballs. For real. If you are wondering who East Side Mario’s had in mind when they came up with the unlimited soup, salad and bread combination, well, it was me, and I’m not too proud to admit it. I prefer my Italian Wedding Soup to have the wee little marble-sized meatballs, so every time that I whip up a batch of balls for the freezer, I make sure that there is at least a baggie or two of those on hand for soup-related emergencies.
Saute a finely diced yellow onion and 4-5 cloves of garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add a pinch of red chili flakes and a pound of well chopped kale or mature spinach. Pour in 2 liters of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add 3/4 cup of small round pasta (acini di pepe are best, but ditalini work too) and the meatballs. Simmer until the pasta is tender. Season with salt and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.
It doesn’t take much to gild the lily of Italian wedding soup, so I also like to slowly whisk in a beaten egg to form strands in the soup and sprinkle with a bit of freshly grated parmesan. Speaking of, do you save your parmesan rinds? You should. Keep them in the freezer and drop a used up rind into your soup (note: just as awesome for minestrone) as it simmers to add a richness and depth of flavor to even a paltry store bought stock. Yum.
Meatballs are your friend. A bag of frozen meatballs on hand puts meals in minutes at your fingertips, and will ensure that you are never caught off guard with nothing to serve those unexpected guests or mid-week interlopers who stop by just in time for dinner. Truly, a fabulous time saver if ever there was one.