Sunday, February 2, 2014

Baked Italian-Seasoned Meatballs Make Great Sliders

Whether you're cooking for a crowd or stocking your freezer, this is a great recipe to have on hand. These Italian-seasoned meatballs are easy to assemble and bake. When you're done, you'll be ready to turn out pasta, meatball sandwiches or party-pleasing meatball sliders in a flash.

I used an ice-cream scoop to portion out the meat, then shaped each into a slightly flattened ball so the cooked meatballs wouldn't roll off the buns. If you'd rather have meatloaf sliders, ratchet up the seasonings a bit, pat the meat mixture into a 1-inch-thick rectangle, and cut into squares. Cook the squares as you would the meatballs, reducing the time as needed. Serve with ketchup or your choice of condiments.

If you've never baked meatballs on a broiler pan, give my method a try. The fat drips into the bottom of the pan, making the meatballs more healthful. In addition, they require little attention while they bake, unlike pan-frying.

If you have time and a favorite recipe, make your own sauce. I took a shortcut, enhancing a good-quality marinara with a tablespoon or so of tomato paste.

Yield: 24

3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 medium onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 2/3 pounds ground beef (85 percent lean)
About 56 ounces marinara sauce (purchased or homemade)
24 small sandwich buns
Sliced provolone cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in egg, mixing well. Crumble in beef; using your hands, mix lightly but well.

If desired, check the seasonings by making a small patty and cooking in a small skillet, about 5 minutes. (These meatballs are lightly seasoned because they also get flavor from the sauce. Add more seasonings to taste.)

For easy cleanup, line the bottom of a large two-part broiler pan with foil. Coat the top portion with nonstick cooking spray.

Form the meat mixture into 24 balls, using about 1/3 cup for each. If desired, flatten the meatballs slightly (so they won't roll off the sandwich buns). Arrange on the broiler pan.

Bake until meatballs reach 160 degrees, about 25 minutes. 

Heat sauce in a large skillet. Add meatballs, discarding any fat that clings to the bottom of the meatballs. Simmer gently until meatballs are heated through and have absorbed some of the flavor from the sauce, at least 10 to 15 minutes. (To serve at a party, keep sauce and meatballs warm in a slow cooker.) Serve meatballs and a little sauce on sandwich buns, adding  cheese if desired.