Thursdays in the Kitchen: [Lactose-free] Baked Italian Meatballs

Many of the best recipes call for ricotta cheese to ensure a tender meatball. But the lactose can be very uncomfortable to digest for many people. Here is a way around that which tastes even better.

Recipe

2 cups soft fresh breadcrumbs (not dried!), I used sourdough pulled from the inside of the loaf

1 cup lactose-free sour cream (an excellent substitute for the ricotta often used in other Italian meatball recipes)

1 cup chicken broth or bone broth (I use Kirkland brand organic “sipping” bone broth from Costco)

4-6 large cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp each salt, and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup or more finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup finely chopped parsley

2 lbs ground grass-fed beef

1 lb hot or mild sweet Italian sausage

Directions

Heat oven to 300 degrees F.

Start by making your fresh breadcrumbs. Place several large hunks of soft sourdough (no crusts) in the food processor or blender and processing until the crumbs are about the size of peas.

Place the fresh breadcrumbs in a medium-sized bowl. Add the chicken broth and the lactose-free sour cream and stir. It should be very soft but not swimming in broth. If it is too thick or pasty, add a bit more chicken broth to wet the mixture. Whisk three eggs and add them to the bread crumb mixture, followed by the grated parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, crushed garlic, and chopped parsley. The meat goes in last so that it doesn’t get over-mixed.

Take large pinches of the meat and drop it into the wet mix. Use a very large salad serving fork or your hands to combine the mixture without over-mixing which can make the meatballs tough. You can cook them right away or just cover and refrigerate to cook later, or freeze for future use.

 Put a sheet of parchment onto a baking sheet.

 Using an ice cream scoop for even sized meatballs, scoop and very gently roll them into uniform balls, placing them on the parchment lined baking sheet. You can place them pretty close together, but I needed another half baking sheet to hold all of them. Bake in the oven for 45 or 50 minutes, but do check them from time to time as there is no benefit to overbaking them and oven temperatures tend to vary. They won’t get brown or hard; these are deliberately a soft and tender meatball.

 I serve them atop pasta and a simple sauce based on Marcella Hazan’s famous recipe. Marcella calls for the removal of the onion halves but I just use the immersion blender and puree them into the sauce before serving, a recommendation posted by Myo Quinn at Simply Recipes. Myo uses large frozen tomatoes straight from the freezer but I opted for canned San Marzano style whole tomatoes and a can of generic “tomato sauce.” 

A Simple Tomato Sauce (resist the urge to add other flavors until you try this once, as is). Note: I highly recommend doubling this sauce recipe.

 Recipe

1 very large yellow onion, halved or 2+ medium sized onions halved

5 tablespoons salted butter or if using unsalted, add a tsp salt

1 28 oz can good quality whole Italian style tomatoes (avoid ascorbic acid in ingredients)

15 oz can tomato sauce

Optional: If the finished tomato sauce tastes a bit acidic, add a tsp of baking soda 

Directions

Place all ingredients over a medium flame and cover partially with a lid to allow just enough steam to escape so it doesn’t boil over. Cook for about an hour. Use immersion blender to puree the soft onion halves, and serve.

 

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