There are quite a few things that parents of babies/young children do nowadays that were definitely not done when our parents were young. Just ask them, they will tell you; my mother-in-law uses the acronym “TYG” when describing something that “these young girls” do at her workplace. One example of the generation gap is the “first birthday party”. Now, we aren’t dummies, we know that the kid doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s a celebration of the fact that parents and baby made it through the first year and an excuse to have a fun party with your friends. I guess you could use the “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” example here, but whatever. My friends all threw big first birthday parties, so I did too. That’s where the meatballs come in, obviously.
We had about 45 adults and 20 kids (18 of them were under 4). I clung to my culinary default setting; Italian food. We had hot and sweet sausages, meatballs, rolls, long hots, broccoli rabe, sharp provolone, pasta salad, fruit salad, green salad, tomato pie and a veggie pizza. I bought the tomato pie and pizza, friends brought the pasta salad and the fruit salad, and my mom made the sausage. That left me with the meatballs. Lots of meatballs.
Pan frying was out of the question if I was to consider my sanity. I remembered reading an America’s Test Kitchen (they’re the best!) recipe for big batch meatballs, so I looked it up. It didn’t serve as many people as I needed, so I increased the numbers and ended up with just a few meatballs leftover when all was said and done. The whole process of making these meatballs took about an hour and a half, and that was with the fussy 1 year old at my feet. I really, really enjoyed the flavor of the meatballs and I got great reviews. Don’t let the ingredients scare you (I know, buttermilk in meatballs?). If you’d like to make a family-sized version, I reduced the recipe and wrote it below. At work I have to take a recipe and multiply it by 15 – I’ve gotten good at recipe fractions.
Anyways… you will probably see the serving size (40 people) and not see the point to me even posting this. The point is that when I searched Internet-land to find a recipe that would serve a lot of people, I found squat. I found a recipe, did the math for this party, and it ended up working perfectly and tasting great. If I make meatballs for something again in my lifetime, I will want this recipe (and maybe by having this here I can save you the math frustration and guarantee you some yummy results).
Meatballs for a Crowd
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves about 40 (makes about 90 2 in. meatballs)
3 ½ c. panko bread crumbs
2 1/4 c. buttermilk
4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
3 lbs. 85 percent lean ground beef
1 ½ lbs. ground pork
9 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped fine
3 c. grated parmesan cheese
½ c. minced fresh parsley leaves
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 packet powdered (unflavored) gelatin, dissolved in 5 tbsp. cold water
2 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil and set a cooling rack inside each. Spray cooling rack with nonstick spray.
2. Stir together panko and buttermilk in a mixing bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare other ingredients (lightly whisk eggs, chop prosciutto, chop parsley, mince garlic, dissolve gelatin).
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients (including panko/buttermilk mixture) with your hands until uniformly mixed.
5. Roll 2 in. diameter meatballs and set on prepared wire rack.
6. Bake in oven for 30 minutes.
7. For optimum flavor (though at this point they should be cooked through), finish meatballs in a simmering tomato sauce (simmer at least 20 minutes). You will need enough sauce to keep all the meatballs totally submerged. You might need two pots for this – unless you can borrow a giant cauldron monstrosity like I did from my mom.
And now, as promised:
Meatballs for 20 (about 40 2 in. meatballs)
1 3/4 c. panko bread crumbs
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 lb. 85 percent lean ground beef
3/4 lb. ground pork
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto , chopped fine
1 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. minced fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. (unflavored) gelatin, dissolved in 3 tbsp. cold water
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
If you’re making these for just two, know that they freeze exceedingly well! I have frozen them raw as well as cooked – both work so well. Once you’ve gotten your hands all covered with meat, you might as well make it worth the effort! Reheated meatballs and pasta is PERFECT for busy week nights.
*A final tip! You can call ahead to your grocery store’s meat department and ask them to package exactly what you need – free of charge. I called ahead and this is what was waiting for me!