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Big Meatballs with Polenta + Salad

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
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Why we love it:

I love a big giant meatball. I love the look of it on the plate, the creamy center and layers of flavor, and when you’re rolling a batch it’s less work! Huzzah! Serve with polenta which is very much worth the extra time spent stirring.


  • 112 pounds Ground Beef
  • 4 cups Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt (divided)
  • 1 cup Polenta (dried - yellow corn polenta NOT cornmeal)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 cup Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 cup Breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons Whole Milk (plus 1 extra cup, optional)
  • 1 15-ounce can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese (grated, divided)
  • 3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
  • 1 head Romaine Lettuce
  • 2 Tablespoons Salad Dressing (vinaigrette, or oil + vinegar)

Cooking Instructions


    Remove meat from the fridge.

  • 2. POLENTA

    Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and while whisking, slowly stream in the polenta. Don’t stop stirring gently for about 3 minutes, otherwise it will clump. Then reduce heat to medium. Once it looks smooth, you can stop stirring constantly, but for the next 30 minutes, return to whisk well every 3 - 5 minutes. Scrape the bottom and edges of the pan.


    In a large bowl, combine the meat, egg, ricotta, breadcrumbs, oregano, and 2 Tablespoons milk. Add 1 teaspoon of salt for every pound of meat (for example, you would add 1 ½ teaspoons here if you made this with 1 ½ pounds of meat). Using clean fingertips, mix together until it’s all homogeneous.

  • 4. TOMATO

    In a medium saucepan, add the crushed tomatoes and about ½ cup of water. Add a pinch of salt. Heat until gently simmering.

  • 5. FORM

    On a lined, rimmed baking sheet, pour the olive oil. Rub your palms with a bit, and form meatballs with ¼ - ⅓ cup of meat per meatball. Roll until nicely round and place on the sheet. Repeat with the rest. Be sure they're all well coated with the oil.

    Place in the oven, near the bottom 3rd. Roast for about 7 minutes, then slide out and roll them over. After 7 more minutes remove from the oven and transfer to the simmering tomato sauce.

  • 6. POLENTA

    After the polenta has been boiling for about 20 minutes, add 1 additional cup of liquid (milk, half & half, cream, stock or water). Whisk well. Add all but a few Tablespoons of parmesan (set aside for garnish). Whisk, and taste carefully to check for salt. You might prefer more salt, add up to an additional teaspoon as needed. It’s done after about 30 - 40 total minutes of cooking. It will be pale yellow and very creamy and soft. Add the butter and whisk to combine. It can sit for 30 minutes covered.

  • 7. SERVING

    Toss lettuce with vinaigrette. Plate a scoop of polenta and top with a meatball and spoon over some sauce. Top with parmesan cheese to taste.

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    omit breadcrumbs and the milk from the mixture, and you’ll have a softer meatball, but once you get it in the tomato sauce to simmer, it will be great
    omit parmesan cheese. Omit ricotta and milk from the meatball mixture, you can use 1 extra egg instead and a drizzle of olive oil if it seems too dry. Or try using 1 cup of your preferred nut milk or cashew cream in the meatball mix
  • BEEF:
    ground chicken or turkey or pork
    serve with pasta instead or rice

Kid Friendly Version

How to Tweak This Recipe for Kids:

  • When I was a kid, I loved small meatballs only (seriously). Form your kid small meatballs, flattened patty meatballs, or just break up the big meatball into meat sauce if that helps them
  • Polenta can be pressed into a round disk and seared in butter to get crispy edges - or top with mozzarella in a little ramekin and broil it

For Toddlers

  • Mash the meatball and serve with chopped veggies and fruit
  • Make sure the polenta really gets a chance to cool but it’s perfect for toddlers otherwise

For Choosy Eaters

  • Try making it with turkey. Roast on a sheet pan or in a pan and don’t add to the sauce. Boil off some pasta to go alongside. Consider the other meatball shapes and sizes as listed above

Prep Ahead & Use It Up

  1. Make the meatball mix and store all together for up to 2 days
  2. OR, make the meatballs and simmer in the sauce in advance. They reheat wonderfully and easily – and they also freeze well
  3. The polenta can be made ahead but it will solidify – to reheat, add to a pot and add a little water or milk, whisk constantly as it warms up until it’s smooth again
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