As the youngest of five kids, I’ve inherited a lot of quick, shoestring budget recipes made from frozen and canned goods. Though my sisters might disagree, one of my favorite recipes my mom used to make was her rendition of “Swedish meatballs” — frozen meatballs cooked in a pan with one can of cream of mushroom soup as gravy. With a side of instant mashed potatoes and some form of frozen vegetable, you’ve got yourself a huge meal for pennies on the dollar.
Unfortunately, given that my mom’s recipe makes enough to feed a family of seven, I always end up with a huge bag of frozen meatballs just sitting in my freezer for months on end. Obviously I could make them with spaghetti, but there have to be other recipes that include meatballs besides that, right?
According to cookbook author Jim Mumford, who tells me his actual nickname is “Jimmy Meatballs,” there are plenty of great meatball-centric recipes that don’t include spaghetti — in addition to my mom’s, of course. “The meatball is one of the oldest prepared foods known to man,” Mumford begins. “Many believe it originated in Persia in a dish called kofta, a spiced meatball made with leftover meat scraps. And ironically enough, the proto-all-American burger originated in the Roman empire, where they made isicia, a ball made of any meat or seafood, then wrapped in fat.”
So because humans have been forming meat into balls for centuries, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a side.
To that end, per Laura Bais, owner of Julie’s Cafe Bakery, white rice goes great with meatballs. “Just like potatoes, rice feels lighter on your stomach than spaghetti and has more health benefits,” she tells me. “But you will need more sauce because rice can easily absorb moisture.”
Of course, you could always make a meatball sub. And if you don’t have a loaf of French bread lying around, Bais says a hot dog bun works in a pinch. “If you put your meatballs inside the hot dog bun, and add some mozzarella and fresh parsley,” she says, “you will make yourself one delicious meatball sub.”
You can also throw your meatballs into an Italian wedding soup or on top of a frozen pizza. Mumford also suggests putting meatballs “in a bahn mi sandwich, or tossing them in some buffalo sauce and serve them like wings the next time you have people over to watch a game,” he says. Meanwhile, pairing meatballs with polenta or grits “is a culinary marriage made in heaven,” he continues, “as the slightly sweet and earthy polenta pairs well with the meatiness of the meatballs.”
Finally, if all else fails, good ol’ Jimmy Meatballs has one last way to eat meatballs other than with spaghetti. “That’s ‘Jim’s way,’” he concludes. “Cold, right out of the fridge and hunched over the sink.”