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Meatballs with Mint & Parsley in Tomato Sauce: Round and Round We Go

Meatballs are the sort of thing that unite us all — young and old, locals and tourists. A good meatball is hard to argue with. It’s meaty, sure, but it has so many other good qualities that just cannot be overlooked. Unlike the meatballs you might eat on top of spaghetti, drenched in tomato sauce and showered with Parmesan, the meatball-forward plate is all about showcasing the star of the show, without all the extra fuss.

I grew up on meatballs, as I would guess so many of you have, too. My mom regularly made ‘katleti’ which, I only recently realized are basically just giant meatballs or hamburger patties. You could argue that meatloaf is really just a misshaped meatball and I ate plenty of that, too. Additionally, one of my favorite kinds of meatballs was what my mom affectionately referred to as ‘hedgehogs’ which, oddly, made me want to eat them even more. These meatballs were combined with white rice (thus the hedgehog reference) and often stuffed into red and green bell peppers. I ate my hedgehogs the way most kids eat oreos. Filling first, pepper second. As a child, I would have been happy to call half a stick of butter slathered on bread ‘dinner,’ so my mom clearly had to go to great lengths to seduce me into eating things like meat.

Recently, I’ve noticed that meatballs have become ‘a thing.’ Like cake pops, bacon candy, sweet potato fries, and brioche burger buns. I began seeing meatballs on virtually every restaurant menu and, unsurprisingly, have come to find that the way that people make their meatballs says a lot about them. First, there’s the meat. Most people make meatballs out of a mixture of pork and, sometimes, veal. Though, there are those who make theirs with turkey and beef, or a mixture of both. Sauce is usually a given as dry meatballs are sort of uninspired. The herbs, too, vary. Parsley is the workhorse of the meatball and, in my opinion, should always make an appearance. The Italian, flat-leaf kind is the one I reach for at the market these days.

As someone who rarely cooks with pork and doesn’t eat veal, I tend to make my meatballs out of beef and sometimes a mixture of beef and turkey. And I like them that way. Today I am going to tell you about some meatballs that I think are pretty fantastic. They are made with a hearty amount of Pecorino Romano cheese, one of my favorite Italian hard cheeses. It has that same salty bite that Parmesan does, and sometimes, I break off little chunks and nibble on them as a I cook. The nice thing is, too, that once you break a little chunk, lots of other little chunks will fall off and, of course, you’ll have to eat them! My meatballs do not contain any dried herbs. Honestly, if you’re going to use herbs, you should always use fresh herbs; the flavors just don’t compare. They’re made with Panko breadcrumbs, which, I believe, contribute to their moist centers. They have a slightly crunchy outside, which gives them a certain matter of character. But here’s the number one reason I am full-heartedly obsessed with these meatballs: mint. Yes, mint. I’m finding myself cooking more and more with mint, an herb which is, in fact, a weed. But this little weed is magical. It adds, shall we say, a freshness to these meatballs, which, as we’ve already discussed, are moist on the inside and slightly crusty on the outside.

I could go on and on about why a bowlful of meatballs swimming in a shallow pond of tomato sauce is a delicious dinner any night of the week. I think what makes me really happy about this dish is knowing that, for the past 20-some years, I have been eating meatballs everywhere I go. And they keep making the rounds. Following me. There’s a comfort there. And I suppose that’s why they’re having having their moment now.

Meatballs with Mint & Parsley in Tomato Sauce
*serves four

For the meatballs:
1 pound of ground beef
1/3 cup of grated Pecorino Romano, plus more to serve
2 large eggs
1/4 cup of finely chopped mint leaves, plus more to serve
1/4 cup of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/3 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly grated nutmeg

For the tomato sauce:
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 sprigs of thyme
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons of olive oil

1. To make the meatballs, combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix them gently with your hands. Form the mixture into 2 ounce balls and place them on a plate.
2. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large cast iron skillet and heat it over medium-high. Cook the meatballs in batches, turning them occasionally, until completely cooked through and lightly browned on all sides (about 10-15 minutes per batch).
3. While you’re cooking your meatballs, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium pot and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and thyme and saute for about a minute (until the garlic becomes fragrant). Stir in the diced tomatoes in their juice and lower the heat to medium. Cook the sauce for about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then use a hand blender to puree the sauce. You can also carefully transfer it to a blender to puree. Return the sauce to the pot.
4. Add the cooked meatballs to the pot with the sauce and toss gently to coat them.
5. To serve, ladle meatballs and sauce into shallow bowls. Sprinkle with some chopped mint and more cheese (if you wish).

Musical Pairings: White Rabbits – Milk Famous + Meatballs with Mint & Parsley in Tomato Sauce

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • This looks amazing! I have been on a crazy mint kick lately too – I have been literally putting it in everything! Mint is the new basil!

  • Hannah

    My mom made stuffed peppers too! But I never ate the pepper part.

  • Haha. I’m one of those weird people that loved the peppers. Especially the green ones!

  • “Mint is the new basil” – that’s going to be my new mantra, Kimber!

  • You have some nice looking balls here! Oh, I meant meatballs, of course! They look great and bring me back to the days when I’d stand next to my mom and help her roll them. I don’t make them anymore, but I’ve learned to do some vegetarian versions that work nicely. These do look wonderful, though!

  • I guess that makes me weird then, too. Loved the peppers.

  • Hahah. If there are two of us, then maybe we’re not the weird ones 😉 I feel like I always hear of people who don’t like green bell peppers, but they are in fact one of my faves.

  • ahahahhah. I’m glad the post brought back some memories for you. I’ll have to try my hand at some vegetarian meatballs sometime soon…The possibilities are endless!

  • Yes, meatballs! I make mine with lamb, because that’s how I roll. I like the mint in the actual meat mix idea. Lamb meatballs with garlic, ginger, and hot pepper with a mint yogurt sauce are perhaps the best thing ever.

  • Lamb! Of course! We don’t cook much with lamb, but I just smacked myself in the forehead because I didn’t include it in my list above. I know that lamb is a really popular meatball ingredient, especially in Greece and the Middle East. I wonder if ginger would be tasty in a beef meatball, too??

  • Awesome meatball recipe. Really loved this…so different! The pictures are making me drool!!

  • Meatballs do seem to be making a comeback! Marc is just crazy for meatballs and for some reason, I rarely think to make them. My mom used to make meatballs with pineapple in a homemade sweet and sour sauce. We loved when she made those! I fully support more mint in food. It just adds something so nice to almost anything!

  • Renee

    Meatballs are my favourite comfort food. Lately I’ve been making a spicy Thai turkey variety in a sweet chili glaze. Yummers. Love the tip about the mint – I’ll throw some of that in next time too!

  • Thank you!

  • Ahhh! I know exactly what you’re talking about! Sweet and sour meatballs are so delicious. You should totally recreate!

  • Spicy Thai turkey meatballs sound delicious! What goes into your chili glaze? I am getting so many awesome ideas for meatballs I want to make in the future…Turntable Kitchen might just because Turntable Meatballs…

  • I agree – they unite us all. I am such a fan, in all forms! Love your addition of mint. And it’s funny how we like opposite vegetables: you, the eggplants and bell peppers of the nightshade family, and me the cauliflower and basically everything in the crucifer family. Perhaps some weird genetic thing?

  • That’s hilarious, Kimberley. I actually do love broccoli (that’s a crucifer, right??) I think it might be a texture thing. Do you like mushrooms? They’re actually the only thing I’m on the fence about. They’re slimy, so should squarely fit into my love of eggplants and bell peppers, but I am VERY particular about my mushrooms. Anything chantrelle-like, I love, but I’m not as much into the more rubbery-tasting ones. Also, I love crunchy vegetables. Ok, I’ll stop now. I’ve been adding mint to so many things…Love it!

  • Where have I been? What have I been doing? How did I miss the meatball post? My mouth is seriously watering right now. I’ve been feeling the call of the meatball lately and you’ve just pushed me over the edge. Great post and love all the tips throughout!

  • Lori @ Lemons and Lavender

    My husband is a fire department captain and whenever we entertain with some of his co-workers as guests, I make sure to have meatballs on hand. The guys want meat and always seem to find their way to the pot of meatballs; meatballs DO bring people together! I’m a believer. I love the addition of fresh mint and am with you on the fresh herbs – so much better.

  • Meatballs are not to be missed, Jess. 🙂 I’m glad this caught your eye, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on meatballs (if you decide to make them).

  • Lori, meatballs always speak of warmth and camaraderie to me, so it makes sense that they’re a staple with the firefighters! Isn’t it funny how one herb can totally transform an entire dish?

  • Elise Slowikowski

    I didn’t follow your meatball recipe exactly… but I did add the mint to my recipe and it really does add something to them! I loved them. My husband isn’t too sure about the mint for some reason… he noticed the mint more than I did and thought it was unusual.

    He is also wondering if it is really 1/4 cup of finely chopped mint, or 1/4 cup of mint leaves? I might use less next time just to please him, but I think mint has found its way into my recipe permanently!

  • Hi Elise, I typically only use the mint leaves (not the stems) but have updated the recipe to make this more clear. You can certainly use more or less mint. Personally, I’m a fan of its bright and assertive flavor, but herbs are meant to be played with. I’m glad you enjoyed the addition!

  • GrandpaLeaman

    My wife is Italian and she always adds mint to her meatballs, and I LOVE it. They are the best I’ve ever had!

  • Glad you agree about the addition of mint to meatballs 🙂

  • Rachel Page

    I made them a little smaller than golf balls, and they were crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. Thanks for the great recipe!

  • littlebear


  • First meatballs I’ve ever made without the typical Italian ingredients, like my mom would make…but she did always use mint. I thought I had burned them because they were so crunchy on the outside, but biting into them they were juicy and tasty. Nice effect. These were delicous; thank you. (And I did not make any pasta, either. Truly un-Italian meatballs!)

  • OK, Kasey, I lied. I Made your recipe exactly but didn’t have any nutmeg, so I substituted ginger. Turned out delicious. I was also a little short on cheese, so I’ll make it again exactly like you say…can’t wait. And I want to experiment with lamb sometime, too. Definitely a mint meat.

  • Kasey, I’m a professional brand identity designer, and I could not possibly top your brilliant logo. Love the name, but the logo really makes it. It’s like the knife is the tonearm and the fork is the thing that used to hold a stack of records in place on the spindle. (I guess the spoon is off being used as a Karaoke mic?)

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