The place I learned how to cook, well, it was the kind of apartment complex that Midwesterners move into when they can't afford the down payment on a trailer home. When my mom first showed me how to do a few things in the kitchen, then, we couldn't exactly replicate what the chefs were doing on PBS. Hell, getting all the ingredients for something in the Betty Crocker cookbook could be a stretch a lot of the time.
Anyway, there are some tricks you learn when you have to make do in the kitchen. Ways to turn stale bread soft again or make powdered milk semi-palatable. One of those tricks, stretching out your supply of hamburger by mixing it with oatmeal, I use to this day when I make spaghetti and meatballs.
What saves this from being an unconscionable, ghetto-ass thing to foist upon one's guests is that oatmeal actually makes a perfect substrate for introducing liquid to the meat. Specifically, a handful of oatmeal can soak up more than its dry weight in red wine. Mixing this wine-infused oatmeal into the meat ensures that deliciousness is distributed into every bite. Better still, the mixture contains tons of moisture, making it nearly impossible to overcook the meatballs and dry them out, while also removing any need to use a slickening agent such as eggs.
Here are the ingredients I use. All of them scale linearly with the amount of hamburger you're starting with.
1 pound hamburger -- not too lean, the cow-grease hardens your arteries, makes you strong like bull. Also, it will add good flavor to the sauce.
1 cup regular oatmeal -- not "quick oats".
1 cup strong red wine -- I use a cheap Shiraz.
2 smallish cloves garlic -- smashed and shredded.
1/3 cup hard cheese, such as Parmesan.
Salt, pepper, and torn fresh basil to taste. Add some crushed red pepper if you like "a spicy meatball" as they say.
Preparation is easy. The goal is to distribute all the ingredients evenly throughout the meat. Start by putting the ground beef in the bottom of a good-sized bowl. Then, dump the oatmeal on top of that, and pour the wine into the middle of the oats and trying to soak all of them. Some wine will fall around the sides, which is fine because it will be taken up during mixing. The rest of the ingredients should be piled on top after that, and then the whole lot of it should be turned and folded by hand until completely mixed.
To make the meatballs, grab a big handful and form it into a sphere about the size of a man's fist, or a touch smaller than a newborn's skull. Some folks prefer their meatballs to be smaller, but they are wrong. The recipe above should make three, maybe four meatballs.
For normally-sized meals, frying these up in a large skillet is the way to go. Because they're so thick, they need to be cooked a long time to ensure that they are done all the way through. I usually let them cook on three or four sides until each individual side is well done. Then, just to be sure (and to let the sauce accumulate delicious flavor), I let them simmer in tomato sauce for another twenty or thirty minutes. For higher volumes, the oven is a good choice -- 350° F for fifty minutes on a cookie sheet should do it. These might sound like brutally long cooking times for red meat, but they will stay moist and tender just fine, and one can't be too careful with hamburger meat.
Share with friends, and enjoy!