Forget everything you’ve ever learned about how to make a good meatball. There’s absolutely no reason meatballs shouldn’t naturally be gluten-free—and dairy-free. Trust me. Even growing up with a Roman father and Neapolitan grandfather didn’t arm me with enough explanation as to why you have to first soak bread in milk before you could even think of forming a meatball.
Why do meatballs have to be so complicated? When you think of what the soaked bread is technically there to do—give the meatball a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness—there are easier, healthier ways.
Even better? You have options. For this recipe, I use crushed brown rice cereal. I’ve also used crushed tortilla chips, unsweetened corn flakes and plain instant oatmeal. They all perform the same function: They absorb liquid.
The other trick is to add ingredients that release liquid. Here I’ve used kale. You can swap in any green leafy veggie or if you prefer, finely chopped mushrooms or grated zucchini. The combination will give you a meatball your grandma would be proud of.
Oven-Baked Meatball-Kale Subs
Leave the extra grease behind: When the meatballs have finished baking, just transfer them directly to the warmed tomato sauce.
1 pound ground beef chuck
½ pound bulk Italian sausage
2 cups chopped kale
¼ cup rice cereal crumbs, such as Erewhon or Kellogg’s
3 cloves garlic—2 smashed and 1 chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
½ cup milk or nondairy milk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
One 24-ounce jar strained tomatoes, such as Bionaturae
6 gluten-free burger buns, split and toasted, such as Udi’s
Shredded mozzarella or nondairy mozzarella-style cheese, for topping (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, combine the beef, sausage, ½ cup kale, cereal crumbs, chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, milk and egg; shape into 1-inch balls. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with about 1 teaspoon salt; simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cooked meatballs and remaining 1½ cups kale.
Preheat the broiler. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the meatballs with sauce and kale onto the rolls and top with cheese, if using. Broil until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.
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Silvana Nardone is a food lifestyle expert, magazine editor and motivational speaker. She is the editor-in-chief of the all-digital, gluten-free magazine, Easy Eats. Silvana is also the author of Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals and publisher of Silvana’s Kitchen, a blog that takes the guesswork out of how to feed a family with food allergies. Previously, she was the founding editor-in-chief of Every Day with Rachael Ray.