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Global Menu Mix
A Vietnamese meatball banh mi with Cajun flavor and meatballs with classic crushed tomato red sauce are found on the menu at Meatball and Co, a wildly popular pop-up brand by Morrison Healthcare.

Are you ready for some meatball?

Get “baller status” by adding these savory spheres to your fall menu. So many different proteins, wow-level ingredients and global flavor profiles make meatballs just the thing to get culinary innovation rolling.

Rolling just under the food trend radar, meatballs are gaining serious momentum this season. We found examples that roll along the road less traveled so deliciously, it’s obvious chefs are having a ball with creative meatballs in many forms. 

“Meatballs are truly universal and transcend so many global cultures,” says Jeffrey Quasha, senior director of culinary innovation for Morrison Healthcare. “Our team is currently developing a banh mi po boy featuring the emerging Viet-Cajun trend in a savory Vietnamese-style meatball topped with pickled vegetables and jalapenos, but topped with a Cajun remoulade.”

Morrison Healthcare has taken the meatball trend to cult-like status with its Meatball and Co pop-up brand, which flips an everyday quick-serve pizza model into a whole new world of rotating meatballs with a signature jumbo meatball entrée and elevated meatball hoagies. “The Sunday Sauce, The Triple Threat and The Baller are huge hits in our cafes across the country and make for an easy catering or patient meal experience,” Quasha says.

Paying tribute to the classic

When considering the anatomy of a great meatball-as-entree, going back to the Italian “cucina povera” or “poor kitchen” binds together history and technique, according to Michael Cleary, executive chef with Bon Appetit at St. John’s College.

“Meatballs made from the finest and most expensive cuts like short ribs, sirloin or prime rib, like you might see in some fine dining restaurants, get it all wrong,” Cleary says. “A meatball is supposed to elevate and extend inexpensive and scarce protein. Grinding tough cuts of meat allows it to tenderize more quickly during cooking. Meatballs are elevated simply by shaping, but also by adding umami-driven sub-ingredients. The use of fillers such as bread or rice multiplies the number of portions and serving them in a sauce or broth alongside some form of starch makes them the centerpiece of an entrée.”


The protein to binder to aromatics ratio found in the Italian classic is a master class in meatballs, seen here created by Bon Appetit Chef Michael Cleary at St. John’s College.

Classic Italian meatballs often fit a familiar ratio: two parts beef, one part pork and about one third panade. “Panade is a mash of bread and milk that adds volume to the mixture but also works to prevent protein fibers from tightening during cooking,” Cleary says. “Added to this are parmigiano, herbs onions and garlic.”

Cleary also adds his favorite secret ingredient to the meatball mixture: green bell peppers. He recommends keeping your hands wet while forming meatballs, which will prevent sticking and ensure smooth, round meatballs. 


Bon Appetit’s bulgogi meatballs at St. John’s College are served with rice and house-fermented kimchi.

Using the Italian blueprint of protein, binder and aromatics, the meatball can get its passport ready and take off for many other cultures.

Recently, Cleary found a New York Times recipe for Bulgogi Pork Meatballs, a variation of which he serves regularly at St. John’s with steamed rice and house-fermented kimchi. Another meatball on Cleary’s radar? The Vietnamese dish bun cha, which blends ground pork with lemongrass, shallots and fish sauce. The mixture is formed into meatballs, grilled and served in a light broth with rice noodles and chili flakes. 


Kafta, the meatball of the Middle East, can work very well in K-12. These were made by Metz Culinary Management Chef Adam Carlson.

Will it meatball?

The easygoing nature of meatballs means they don’t even have to include…well, meat. Animal meat, anyway. Like the lentil meatballs mentioned earlier, a cool new plant-based ball has entered the game at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation-Lakeway (Texas), where HHS Chef Tommy Turbyfill’s broccoli and cheese balls are “a perfect combo of fresh, savory flavors,” and served with a bright citrus vinaigrette.

“Here, we have broccoli cheese balls over rosemary capellini in a lemon-sundried tomato vinaigrette,” Turbyfill says. “It’s vegetarian friendly. The broccoli can be fresh or frozen, but needs to be steamed until it’s really soft.” From there, he seasons with salt and pepper, then combines the broccoli in a mixing bowl with flour, eggs and parmesan-jack cheese. “Mix it and mash together with your hands,” he advises. “Have fun with it!” After just a few minutes in the oven, the broccoli cheese balls are ready to party. “These can be served as appetizers or a main course option.” 


“When you have the mix ready, refrigerate it for at least an hour to harden the fat that’s in the meat. When you’re ready to roll, put on gloves and have olive oil handy to prevent sticking.”

Metz Culinary Management’s Corporate Chef John Selick likes to serve meatballs over polenta, Italian sausage-inspired meatballs, turkey meatballs with Moroccan spices, and, in a twist we’ve never seen, chicken meatballs for chicken paprikash. Our Hungarian granny wouldn’t know what to make of that! 

And Metz Regional Chef Xaixier Smith has a vegan meatball blend that includes walnuts, cremini mushrooms, panko breadcrumbs, garlic, onions, white beans, fresh basil, parsley, vegan parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and paprika. 

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