Want To Save Time? Stop Rolling Your Meatballs

Spaghetti with drop meatballs, hot and sour black beans, and chicken with ketchup

Thanks for visiting The Bittman Project, a place where food is everything (or pretty close).

It’s inevitable: Some days you haven’t planned anything to cook, the afternoon sneaks up on you, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say, “Gahhhh! What’s for dinner?” For those times when you need something fast, easy, and tasty, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few recipes to help you navigate this week.

Spaghetti and Drop Meatballs With Tomato Sauce

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

The most time-consuming part of making meatballs is rolling them. The solution? Don’t. Just use two spoons to drop little mounds of the mixture into the hot skillet. Skipping the rolling also prevents you from overworking the meatballs until they get tough. Leave them alone to brown beautifully on the bottom while you start building the tomato sauce around them.


  • Salt

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 12 ounces ground beef

  • 6 ounces parmesan cheese (1½  cups grated)

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley 

  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs 

  • 1 egg

  • Pepper

  • 1 large onion 

  • 3 garlic cloves

  • Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 1 pound spaghetti


1. Bring a stockpot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put the ground beef in a medium bowl. Grate 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese and add 1 cup to the bowl. Chop 1/4 cup parsley leaves and add to the bowl.

3. Add 1/4 cup bread crumbs to the bowl, crack in the egg, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently mix together until everything is just combined.

4. When the oil is hot, use 2 spoons to drop rounds of the meatball mixture into the skillet (without touching if you can help it).

5. Once you’ve used up all the mixture, let the meatballs cook, undisturbed, until they’re nicely browned on the bottom, 5 or 6 minutes. Trim, peel, and chop the onion; scatter it around the meatballs. Peel and mince 3 garlic cloves; scatter them on the onions.

6. When the meatballs are nicely browned on the bottom, add the tomatoes and their juice to the skillet, along with 3 bay leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently, then cover the skillet (by the time the pasta is cooked, the meatballs will be firm).

7. When the water boils, add the pasta and stir occasionally. Start tasting after 5 minutes.

8. When the pasta is tender but not mushy, drain it, reserving some cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Discard the bay leaves and spoon about half of the tomato sauce into the pasta pot, leaving the meatballs behind. Toss the pasta, adding a splash of cooking water if you want to make it saucier.

9. Divide the pasta among 4 plates or bowls; top with the meatballs and the remaining sauce, sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over the top, and serve.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast


Hot and Sour Black Beans With Bok Choy

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

Black beans take on classic Chinese flavors well. If you come across black soybeans, snap ’em up, but ordinary black turtle beans are just fine. Here a quick marinade makes them salty, sweet, sour, and hot all at once. A toss with stir-fried bok choy is all it takes to make a meal.


  • 4 cups cooked or canned black beans (two 15-ounce cans)

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, or more to taste

  • Pepper

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 large head bok choy (1 1/2 pounds)

  • 2 garlic cloves 

  • Salt


1.If you’re using canned beans, rinse and drain them; put the beans in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, and a good amount of pepper to the beans. Toss to coat and let sit.

2. Put 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Trim the bok choy; cut or pull the leaves from the stems. Thinly slice the stems.

3. Add the stems to the skillet and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally until they start to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Cut the leaves into wide ribbons. Peel and mince 2 garlic cloves.

4. Add the leaves, garlic, a little salt, and some pepper to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally until the leaves wilt and the stems are nearly tender but still have some crunch, 3 or 4 minutes.

5. Stir in the black beans and all of the marinade and cook, stirring to combine, just until the beans are warmed through, 3 or 4 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast


Stir-Fried Chicken With Ketchup

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Once you try cooking with ketchup (we’re betting you’ll love it), play around some: Cook peanuts with the chicken, toss some slivered scallions in at the end — the color contrast is brilliant — or substitute soy sauce for the salt. Other proteins you can use: squid, shrimp, tofu (if you’re using tofu, use firm or extra-firm; cut it into 8 slices and lightly squeeze out the liquid before cooking).


  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-size chunks and blotted dry

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch, rice flour, or all-purpose flour, or more as needed

  • 4 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil 

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 tablespoons sliced garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

  • 1 cup ketchup

  • Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish


1. Toss the chicken with cornstarch so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke, shake off any excess cornstarch and add the chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Cook, undisturbed, until the chicken browns on one side, then toss and cook until almost done; smaller pieces will take 5 minutes total, larger pieces about 10. Transfer to a plate. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool for a moment.

3. Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the garlic and cayenne and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the ketchup and stir; cook until it bubbles, then darkens slightly, about a minute. Return the chicken to the pan and stir to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve, garnished with cilantro.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition