Meatballs With Pureed Onions and Two Cheeses

I love meatballs of all kinds and have a few different recipes on my blog including my favorite to serve over pasta with my marinara sauce. If you would like a spicy recipe to use as an appetizer check out David Lebovitz’s recipe.

I recently looked through Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s “My Perfect Pantry” cookbook and ran across his meatball version with pureed onions. With my love for onions I had to try his recipe, plus the ingredients include two cheeses! Geoffrey also uses a combination of veal and pork and no beef which I later found out was a mistake in terms of flavor.

I used his ingredients except I cut back the water amount when pureeing with the onions/garlic. The meat mixture would have been too sloppy otherwise and not hold together. You could also boil, roast or bake the onions instead of using raw ones like Geoffrey did.

Our recipes are similar but different at the same time. I did change the method of cooking. Geoffrey fries his meatballs and finishes them off in the oven or marinara sauce. I always bake mine – just don’t like the idea of messy, fried meatballs – besides it’s healthier! Then I finished cooking in my marinara sauce.

Comment: I made these meatballs awhile ago and before I had a chance to post this recipe I learned something new. I already was suspicious of the reason for the lack of flavor in the meatballs. After reading Kenji’s “Food Lab” I found out “beef provides robust flavor, pork provides a good amount of tender fat and veal provides plenty of gelatin to help retain moisture”. These meatballs did not have any beef and the veal definitely diluted the meaty flavor! Thank goodness for my delicious marinara sauce.

Forget the “meatloaf mixture” – buy beef and pork separately the next time you make your meatloaf. Don’t bother with the veal!

With this in mind it is better to use a combination of beef and pork and add gelatin in place of the veal. Kenji suggests adding 2 tbsp. unflavored gelatin hydrated in a bit of chicken stock and cooled until dissolved.

I have noted the changes in the recipe below…

Meatballs With Pureed Onions and Two Cheeses, Adapted

  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup water (I cut back to 1/2 cup – add only enough to get a good consistency)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 lb. ground veal (substitute beef)
  • 2 tbsp. unflavored gelatin hydrated in a bit of chicken broth until dissolved (optional)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated and more for serving
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
  • 1-1/2 cups unseasoned fresh bread crumbs (see Homemade Fresh Breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • additional seasonings such as basil or oregano (optional)
  • serve over a pasta of your choice (bucatini is my favorite)
  • 1 recipe marinara sauce

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Process the onion, garlic, and water in a food processor and puree until very smooth. Don’t add too much water, only enough to achieve a good consistency.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, veal, eggs, parmesan, romano, bread crumbs, parsley, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Add only enough onion puree and with your hands, mix until just combined.

Form  into 24 meatballs. Normally I use a stainless steel scoop but because the mixture was soft I used my hands. Don’t overwork the mixture as the meatballs should be light and soft.

I read somewhere that you can microwave meatballs for 5 minutes to set the exterior and keep them from falling apart. Precooking also renders some of the fat.

You can fry the meatballs for more flavor but I chose to bake them.

Place meatballs on a rack (spray first with cooking spray to prevent sticking) on a large baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes prior to baking. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the meatballs are almost cooked through. Either cook longer in the oven or simmer in a marinara sauce for an additional 30 minutes.

Recipe by

Linking to Angie and Fiesta Friday #207 and the two co-hosts (yes – me again)  Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Judi @


34 thoughts on “Meatballs With Pureed Onions and Two Cheeses

  1. Judy, these look so delicious! I find that mixing beef and pork ( two parts beef to one part pork) works pretty well. The fat in the beef helps out and the pork adds a different flavor,😁


  2. I agree about beef – it’s really the most flavorful and a must in meatballs/meatloaf. I usually grind the meat myself, and add raw onions to the grinder as well, so I do love the idea of raw onions in the mixture. But I don’t get his addition of 1 cup of water. No doubt you’ve made the right call not to add it all. I’m quite sure a novice cook would not end up with such tasty looking meatballs! 🙂


    • Thanks Ronit – I like the beef/pork combination – and it is said it’s better to grind your own meat – I should look into it. The amount of water immediately sounded strange and I am glad I cut it back. I add onions different ways and this was the first time I used them like this. They are always a good addition 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jenny – I experimented with the veal and it does not add much flavor. Will stick with a beef/pork mixture. The sauce I have been making since I had my huge garden 40 years ago 🙂 Now I have to buy canned tomatoes!


  3. Very useful post! It’s getting harder to find the three meat meatloaf mix anyway, although because that tends to be more expensive I do like you do and just buy beef and pork, or grind my own pork if that isn’t at the store. I just love David Lebovitz and Kenji. I picked up that gelatin trick from Cook’s Illustrated years ago, and love it. Kenji (I love him so much we’re on a first name basis, now, lol! worked at Cook’s for a long time, too.)

    I haven’t had meatballs in ages, but yours look so mouthwatering I’m starting to crave them! Darn it, I have chicken thawed, Judi! You’re messing with my planning, lol!!


    • I agree Mollie – no need to add veal to a meatloaf or meatball mixture. I experimented and didn’t like the taste of veal and pork – you need the beef and not the veal. Use gelatin, right? I’m best friends with Kenji and David too 🙂 He wasn’t challenged enough at Cook’s and found his calling at Serious Eats. I love meatballs, there are some always in the freezer as I use them for entertaining and a pasta meal with unexpected guests (or when I just want them).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember seeing him on tv when he was quite a bit younger and still working for Cook’s making a quick marinara – I still make it. I think it’s even on my blog.


  4. I always use pork and beef for my meatballs and I have never added cheese! Reading your recipe I wonder why and think it is time to give it a go! They look delicious 🙂


      • There is a Swedish recipe using minced veal but it has cream in. It is very old fashioned but delicious. It comes with so many calories (usually a buttery mash and a cream sauce) it is enough for a weeks intake! 🙂


  5. Wow! My husband would love this… I’m going to bookmark it and try it out. He just loves spaghetti and meatballs. The pureed onions had to have made it beautifully creamier I imagine. I made a dish last week, and pureed the onions, and it turned out so creamy, almost as if I had added cream to the dish. Love it 🙂


    • Thanks Loretta – I am a big meatball fan. I frequently have some in my freezer to throw together with pasta and hopefully some frozen homemade marinara sauce. Pureed onions is a great addition to the meatballs as well as the cheese. I will never use veal again though 🙂


  6. I don’t make meatballs often enough. I do really like them, unfortunately the daughter is against them. I need to try harder in converting her! Maybe if I grind my own meat and show her there’s nothing to be afraid of, she’ll come around. Then we can all have meatballs whenever! Sound delicious with the pureed onion! Thanks for cohosting, Judi! XOXO


    • Recipes for meatballs always make so many that I freeze some and have them on hand when I need them. I’m going to look into grinding my own meat as I know it is better. Pureed onions and cheese are a definite plus. You’re welcome Angie – hopefully more people will start to volunteer 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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