The slow cooker is the secret to the the rich flavor and perfect texture of these gluten free meatballs. And it’s also the easiest, most convenient meal you’ll make all week!
Something like 80% of Americans own a slow cooker. Until about a year ago, I was not among them (for shame!). But since upwards of 250 million people can’t be dead wrong, I finally went for it. I cooked and cooked from it when I first got it, to give it a fair shake. Soups, chilis, stews, oatmeal and unforgiving cuts of meat. My kids thought that I had fallen in love with my slow cooker, and looking back that was probably a reasonable assumption at the time.
But I think that was the problem—I was trying to fall in love with it. And as anyone who has ever been in love with anything or anyone before knows, forcing the issue is not necessarily a good plan. Love needs an easy touch. So I decided to relax a bit. And then … I finally hit the slow cooker jackpot: gluten free slow cooker meatballs. Ridiculously easy in both preparation and cleanup, and quite possibly the best meatballs I’ve ever had. Love really does happen when you least expect it!
Slow cooker cooking really is different than conventional cooking, isn’t it? You probably knew that already (you well-schooled 80%), but I didn’t! You really do need recipes that are at least reformulated, if not originally created, specifically for a slow cooker. You want to use dried herbs, not fresh ones for sure for sure. And go a bit easy on the salt (thanks for the tips, Fine Cooking!).
So what makes these slow cooker meatballs better than conventional meatballs? Well it’s the flavor, but (believe it or not) it’s also the texture! The meat slowly absorbs all of the flavor not only of the ingredients you add to the meatballs themselves, but of the simple tomato sauce they are nestled into for all those hours. And since they do sit in the sauce for all that time while it very gently bubbles away, they don’t need a lot of moisture themselves so they stay together beautifully—but are still moist and tender when you serve them.
Notes on Cooking Times: I’ve made these meatballs on both the high setting (for 4 hours), and the low setting (for 8). I’ve served them right after they’re done cooking, and after they’ve sat on “warm” for an hour and a half. After sitting on warm, they definitely absorb more of the sauce and look like they might taste dry, but they’re still moist and tender.
So what’s your favorite way to use your slow cooker? Are you in love with yours, or just sort of “meh”?
Prep time:Cook time:Yield:12 to 14 large meatballs
Tomato Sauce 1 28-ounce can tomato puree (or 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed with their juices until smooth)
3 ounces (1/2 6-ounce can) tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed to release oils
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
*A note about wine: Be sure to use a wine that you would like to drink with red meat, and make sure but that it doesn’t have an overly fruity taste. Cooking with wine, particularly in a slow cooker, tends to intensify its flavor and you don’t want it to overpower the dish.
First, begin the meatballs. In a small bowl, place the breadcrumbs and red wine (or stock mixture), and mix to combine. Allow the breadcrumbs to sit in the wine (or stock mixture) while you prepare the tomato sauce.
Prepare the sauce. In the liner of a 6-quart slow cooker, place all of the tomato sauce ingredients and whisk to combine well. Set the liner aside and return your attention to the meatballs.
Form the meatballs. In a large bowl, place the ground pork and ground beef, and break up the meat gently with your fingers. Add the remaining meatball ingredients in the order listed, mixing gently to combine with your fingers. Do not overwork the meat or the meatballs will be tough. Add the breadcrumb mixture, and again mix until just combined with your fingers. Divide the meatball mixture into 12 to 14 pieces and roll each gently into a ball.
Cook the meatballs. Nestle each meatball into the tomato sauce in the slow cooker liner. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours or until the meatballs are cooked through. The cooked meatballs can remain on your slow cooker’s “warm” setting for up to 1 1/2 hours. Turn the cooked meatballs over in the sauce to coat completely before serving.