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Meatballs: New Takes On Classic Dish

Talk about comfort food: Meatballs, always a crowd pleaser, are great with spaghetti, in a soup, or all by themselves on a toothpick. They're also a breeze to make and call for easy-to-find ingredients.

In The Early Show's "Five-Minute Cooking School" Thursday, cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie showed how to prepare the perfect meatball, including a couple of fun variations on the traditional recipe.

She offered the lesson in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and The Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

APPETIZER MEATBALLS

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These meatballs have a Moroccan twist. They are made with ground lamb. In addition to eggs, breadcrumbs, etc., the meatballs include mint, cinnamon and cumin. The meatballs are meant to be eaten in one bite, and are heavily spiced. You want to be sure to roll them quite small. These meatballs are cooked under the broiler.

MEATBALLS IN SOUP

This is a Mexican-flavored soup that contains ground beef meatballs. Ritchie says ground turkey and chicken are great options for meatballs for soups, because the liquid will keep them quite moist.

RECIPES

Spaghetti with Stuffed Meatballs

Kids will love to lend a hand, literally, with this recipe. They can mix the meat and other ingredients together, a task best accomplished with their hands. (Be sure they wash their hands before and after mixing!) Children can help roll the meat mixture into balls, then make an indentation in each one and place a cheese cube inside.

1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground beef
1/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 lb. mozzarella or provolone cheese, cut into
1/2-inch cubes
Olive oil for frying
About 6 cups tomato sauce
2 lb. spaghetti, cooked and drained
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

In a large bowl, combine the milk and bread crumbs. Add the ground pork, veal, beef, the 1/3 cup parsley, the eggs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix briefly with your hands. Form the mixture into 2-inch balls. Press a mozzarella cheese cube into the center of each ball, sealing it inside.

In a large electric skillet set on medium-high heat or in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, heat 1/2 inch of oil until almost smoking. Add the meatballs and cook until browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined tray.

Discard the oil in the pan. Pour the tomato sauce into the pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10 minutes more.

Put the pasta in a warmed large, shallow bowl. Top with the sauce and meatballs and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately and pass the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table. Serves 10 to 12.

From Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Tomato Sauce

Made with canned tomatoes, this sauce is perfect when fresh tomatoes are not in season. Use this sauce when preparing Ritchie's our Spaghetti with Stuffed Meatballs.

4 cans (each 28 oz.) whole San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh oregano
2 Tbs. slivered fresh basil

Place the tomatoes in a tomato press or food mill set over a bowl and pass them through the press or mill. Repeat as needed until all the large pieces of tomatoes are crushed. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, salt, pepper and chili flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes; do not allow the garlic to burn. Add the oregano and stir to combine. Stir in the crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the basil and cook for 1 minute. Makes about 8 cups.

From Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

For more recipes, go to Page 2.

Moroccan-Style Meatballs

Although these meatballs aren't a traditional dish of Morocco, the presence of mint, parsley, cinnamon and cumin gives them a strong North African accent. Use a light hand when forming the balls, just as you would when shaping a hamburger patty. A gentle touch ensures that the meat isn't compacted or overheated by contact with your hands, and results in light, tender mouthfuls.

If doubling this recipe, use only 1 1/2 times the amount of salt, not double the amount.

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 red onion, very finely chopped
1 lb. ground lamb
3 large garlic cloves, crushed through a press
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, plus sprigs for garnish
2 Tbs. fine dried bread crumbs
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
Lemon wedges for squeezing and garnish
About 42 cocktail picks (optional)

Lightly oil a shallow-rimmed baking sheet. In a fry pan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

Add the lamb, garlic, eggs, parsley, chopped mint, bread crumbs, cumin, cinnamon, the 1 tsp. salt and the 1/2 tsp. pepper to the bowl with the onion. Combine the ingredients thoroughly with your hands (the only way to evenly distribute the ingredients). Fry a small pinch of the mixture, taste, and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Form the mixture into balls about the size of a walnut, rolling them very lightly in the palms of your hands. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

Preheat a broiler. Place the meatballs about 4 inches from the heat source and broil, turning once with tongs, until brown and crispy on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove the baking sheet from the broiler and transfer the meatballs to a platter.
Squeeze some lemon juice over the meatballs and arrange the remaining lemon wedges and mint sprigs on the platter. Using a cocktail pick, skewer each meatball. Serve immediately. Makes about 42 warm bites.

Note: The meatballs can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours before cooking. Remove them from the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking. If desired, cook and cool the meatballs, refrigerate them for up to 4 hours, and then reheat in a 350°F oven until heated through, 10 to 20 minutes.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Hors d'Oeuvre," by Brigit L. Binns (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

Mexican Meatball Soup

You can prepare the meatballs in advance and freeze them in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To use, defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Add to the soup as directed below.

2 zucchini, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) whole plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with juices
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 1/2 tsp. minced fresh oregano
1 tsp. chili powder
Salt, to taste, plus 1 1/2 tsp.
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Make the soup base: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the zucchini, celery, stock, tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, all but 2 Tbs. of the onion, 1/2 tsp. of the oregano, the chili powder and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are soft and the flavors are blended, about 30 minutes. Season with salt.

Prepare the meatballs: Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, the remaining 2 Tbs. onion, the remaining 4 tsp. oregano, the 1 1/2 tsp. salt and the pepper. Mix gently with your hands, then shape into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Set aside.

Finish the soup: When the soup base is ready, using a large spoon, gently slide the meatballs into the simmering stock. Cook until opaque throughout, 7 to 9 minutes. Ladle the soup into soup bowls and serve. Serves 4.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Soup," by Georgeanne Brennan (Oxmoor House, 2006).

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