Want to make a brilliant meatball meal in under 30 minutes? I often make meatballs in an air fryer, and they came out light, with loads of flavour. You don’t even need to turn them over if you follow my steps. Just watch them turn golden brown.
Our grandson often stays over, and although he eats everything I put in front of him, I like to make things that he would like to eat. I came up with this quick and easy dinner because I could have all three parts cooking at the same time, with a quick warm-through in the frying pan at the end. All done and dusted in such a short time. Oh, and he loved helping me roll those meatballs. ???
Ingredients to make my meatballs?
This recipe works so well for me because I’ve chosen readily available ingredients. In fact, they’re ingredients I almost always have on hand as pantry staples. I’ve also chosen ingredients to keep the meatballs together, add moisture, and heighten the flavours (think feta cheese).
My Mum used to make meatballs that were like squash balls (very rubbery), so if your meatballs are tough and rubbery, I know what you’re going through. ?? I never liked them when I was a kid. I think she just used meat and egg, with maybe some salt and pepper, and she couldn’t use onions because my brother wouldn’t have eaten them. So it’s understandable that they turned out like hard little chewy balls. We discussed meatballs in one of our Bake Club sessions a few years back and found that many families would make them for their evening meal rotation. I never knew that!
Meatballs (with spaghetti and sauce) step by step
- Start by chopping your onion and garlic. Get your pan heating on the stove so it’s medium/hot by the time you’re ready for it.
- Fry off the onion, garlic, herbs, and spices in a little oil. I know some may be thinking, why cook them? Trust me, you don’t want raw onion in your meatballs, and these soft translucent bits will stick better when you’re shaping your meatballs.
- While the onion/garlic is cooking, ensure it’s not too hot. It’s better to cook onion by heating it gently. Then get a pot on the stove with water and a teaspoon of salt for your spaghetti to cook in and set it to heat. It will take a while to a boil, so start it now.
- Your onion in the frypan should be starting to become translucent now. You don’t have to brown it here because we’ll cook the meatballs off until they’re golden brown. So, as long as they’re translucent, they are fine. Get the pan off the heat and set it aside.
- Grab a large bowl and put all the meatball ingredients into it, including the onion/garlic mix you had cooling for a bit. Mix all the ingredients without squashing them up too much. You can use a fork if it helps; it must be mixed well but not overworked.
- Roll the meatballs up and place them on your oiled or paper-lined air-fryer racks. Set them into your air-fryer to cook at 180c for 15 mins but check at 10 mins as all air fryers are slightly different. You want them to be golden brown.
- In the meantime, get your spaghetti into the pot of boiling water. It should take 12-15 mins to cook. As soon as it’s cooked, take it out to drain.
- Make your sauce in the frypan with the cooked onion/garlic/herb mix from earlier. I used a little more onion, capsicum and a tin of Annalisa tomatoes. *See the image below.
- Once everything is cooked, toss the al dente spaghetti in the pan, gently coat the spaghetti in the sauce, then do the same with the meatballs. I also threw in a handful of baby spinach to give it some extra colour.
Two things come to mind.
1. You may have overworked the meat
2. You need to add ingredients that hold in moisture or give moisture.
There are loads of recipes out there that don’t use flavour-enhancing ingredients. In this particular recipe, you’ve got a good amount of spices (that are not hot) and a great one is the addition of the feta cheese. It not only adds some salt to bring up the flavour, but also adds some tangy notes to give another dimension. You can use goats, cows or sheep feta.
Have you used something to bind them? This recipe has egg and bread crumbs to help bind. We also use the air fryer, so we don’t have to roll them around in a pan. If you can get your meatballs in layers with gaps all around, you shouldn’t have to move them at all until they’re beautifully golden brown.
These meatballs have heaps of flavour, so your sauce can be quick and easy. I tend to include all the usual suspects – a little cooked-off onion, garlic, herbs and great tomatoes (fresh or tinned). Easy. Oh, if you have kids make sure you get that onion chopped fine and well-cooked before you add your tomatoes; you don’t want them to notice them, right?
Did you know that you don’t usually see meatballs served with spaghetti in Italy? Yeah, I know we all think this spaghetti and meatball thing is Italian, but it’s not. Apparently, it’s an American/Italian invention somewhere back in the 1800s. But it’s one we’ve adopted all over the world.
This is up to you, but the idea of piling meatballs on top of spaghetti just doesn’t do it for me. It might be because of my training as a chef. I like the idea of cooking the spaghetti off until just al dente, then adding to the frypan with the sauce so it warms through and picks up some of the delightful flavours. Lastly, add in the meatballs, warm them through, plate up and serve with lashings of parmesan or pecorino cheese.
Oh, the options are endless. Instead of pasta, you can use rice, couscous, or polenta. You could also serve it on chunks of buttered sourdough toast. If using rice or couscous, you could have matching herbs in both the meatballs as the side. For example, you could make Ras el hanout meatballs (lamb meatballs) and this couscous recipe. That’s a brilliant combination.
Related meal ideas
- Ricotta Gnocchi
- Chicken Pasta Cacciatore
- My instant Italian Herb Blend, see how I make this blend to keep on hand for all sorts of Italian recipes.
Meatballs in an Air Fryer
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- Air Fryer
- 30 g olive oil
- 100 g onions chopped Fine or grated
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped fine or grated
- 15 g fresh oregano leaves or 1 tablespoon — dried 1 teaspoon
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds optional great with pork — *see options
- 1/2 tsp Murray River salt flakes or a big pinch of fine salt
- 500 g minced Pork *see options or other meat
- 150 g feta finely chopped I like to use Danish feta
- 100 g parmesan grated We like lots 100g is shy but I know some kids don't like the strong smell. 😉
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 2 slices of breadcrumbs. Around a cup of fresh bread crumbs
- Sauce, What you like? *see my tips
- Spaghetti enough for the family meal. How many serves? 55- 60g per person
- Set a frying pan on the stove on medium heat. Once hot, add the olive oil, onion, garlic, fresh or dried oregano and fennel seeds. Fry for a few minutes until the onion starts to become translucent but no colour. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside to cool.
- Pop a pot on the stove with water for your spaghetti to cook.
- In a food processor, make your breadcrumbs if you haven’t done already,
- Then add everything for the meatballs to a large bowl and mix until everything is combined. Don’t over mix, or you’ll end up with heavy meatballs.
- Put a little olive oil on your hands, then roll the meatballs into walnut-sized balls. If you have time, pop them in the fridge to firm up or continue by setting them on your air fryer racks. * see tips. Make sure you leave a little room between them, so they brown all over. Mine took 15 mins 180°C cook them until they start to brown.
- Get your spaghetti cooking now; your water should be boiling. (it should take around 12 – 15 mins to cook) Or use your Thermomix, I do 14 min/100°C/reverse + 1 for the spaghetti size I buy.
- In the meantime, make your sauce in a large frying pan, I used the same pan I cooked the onion/garlic off at the start.
- Once the meatballs are browned, (yours may take less time, (size and type of oven) start checking them at 10 mins), add the al dente spaghetti to the sauce in the pan, stir through to coat and warm. Then toss in the meatballs. gently stir through. Serve with loads of grated parmesan.
- Do not overwork your meatballs. If you keep rolling them until they’re tight little balls, well, they’ll be tight little balls. ?
- Don’t press the meatballs onto your fryer rack, or they’ll stick; you can use baking paper if you wish to help with cleaning, but a little oil spray can help, and I’d rather have the air circulate more even if I can. And if your air fryer comes with a “Don’t use baking paper” warning, don’t it could catch alight.
- You can use any minced meat: beef, pork, veal, lamb or a mix. Or, shhh, add some grated veg. I won’t tell. They’ll never know. 🤣
- Why not change your meatballs from Italian to something else? Instead of herbs used in Italian meals, think of cuisines you love. For example, for beef: you might choose paprika and swap the herb out for a little chopped capsicum.
- Or lamb with a bit of rosemary and garlic powder?
- Why not sage with minced chicken or minced turkey that you can find in the supermarket these days?
- You can do spice blends as well—Rasel hanout with lamb.
- Try a curry blend with beef or lamb and add spice to the sauce. Instead of spaghetti, you could use rice. Oh, I’ll stop now. LOL