Jenny is from Jamaica and mostly cooks Jamaican food. When it comes to curry, rice and peas and oxtail stew, Jenny takes her time, sources authentic ingredients and keeps things spicy (literally!). Beyond Jamaican cuisine, Jenny takes an old-school Better Homes and Gardens approach, like so many other immigrants of her time. Being a first-generation Greek, I’m familiar with Jenny’s decidedly American style, which filters ethnicity through convenience. It’s the kind of cooking where Italian meatballs are made with ketchup.
Yup, ketchup in meatballs. Not very One Hungry Mama. But, you know what, they’re really delicious. And quick and easy. And my boys’ favorite dinner ever. I like ‘em, too.
I recently asked Jenny to make her meatballs with me. I wanted to know what made them so tender and tasty (this was before I knew about the ketchup!). She was reluctant, saying that it was silly for her to show me how to cook something as simple as meatballs, but I insisted. At first I just wanted to know how to make something that my boys would eat without fail. As we cooked alongside each other, though, I realized that there was much more to it.
This may sound silly but, in the moment when Jenny added ketchup to her meatball mix, it became crystal clear that there’s wisdom in every kind of from-scratch cooking. That, so long as you use whole ingredients, there’s value in exposing kids to all different kinds of cooking, not just all different kinds of foods. That, within the boundaries of healthy food, there’s value in being flexible about what counts as “good” food. That love, sharing and food bring us together and make things delicious.
So while this recipe is pretty different – certainly in spirit – than my Classic Meatball recipe, it’s a keeper. And not just for my Hungry Boys and sentimental self. For you, too, because they are super tasty, easy to make, use only the most basic pantry staples and take 5 minutes to prep. Any family cook can tell you that you’d be wise to keep a recipe with that list of attributes close at hand at all times. Ketchup or not.
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix together using a fork until well combined.
2. Put a pot of sauce on the stove. I keep homemade marinara in the freezer. If you don’t have or want to make homemade, look for an all-natural jarred sauce (the higher quality sauces tend to be a bit more expensive, but are worth the extra cost when feasible). Use a pot that will allow your sauce to come up the sides at least 2 inches so that the meatballs will be mostly submerged during cooking time.
3. While the sauce is heating up, roll a palmful of the meat mixture into a ball about 1” in diameter.
Repeat until all of the meat mixture has been made into meatballs. Get your kids in the kitchen! Even little ones can help with this step.
4. Carefully place the meatballs in hot sauce and simmer, with the lid on, until they are cooked through, at least 12 minutes or so.