Baked Italian Meatballs are a traditional Italian dinner, but with an easier and faster cooking approach. They have familiar flavors of garlic, beef, pork, parsley, and parmesan.Jump to Recipe
This recipe for baked Italian meatballs is the obvious follow-up to my traditional tomato sauce recipe. These traditional homemade meatballs are another big part of an Italian Sunday dinner.
I love how much flavor ends up in these meatballs. They seem like such an easy thing to make, but moist meatballs can be a bit elusive. They also take very little effort and are without a doubt, the easiest way to make a big batch of meatballs with fresh ingredients. Having a good meatball recipe that is no fail every time you make it, means that you can always rely on having flavorful tender meatballs come out.
Served with pasta, salad, on garlic bread with melted mozzarella over top, or with just a simple marinara sauce. Italian meatballs are an Italian food classic made from ground meat (beef, pork, or veal), a blend of Italian seasoning, freshly minced garlic, sharp parmesan Reggiano, breadcrumbs, ricotta, an egg, splash of milk, and fresh parsley.
The process of mixing meatballs together by hand, rolling each one out, and then frying them in the pan before adding them to tomato sauce is something I can do in my sleep by now.
But to be honest I’ve been breaking some rules when it comes to this classic Sunday dinner.
BAKING VS. FRYING MEATBALLS
The rule that I’m breaking? I’ve been baking my meatballs instead of frying them in olive oil. Yep, I said it! If you’ve stood over the hot stove moving around 36 little meatballs for 30 minutes, sweating it out, you know why another approach is enticing! Well, I’m here to tell you there is in fact a better way.
Year after year of frying my meatballs in a pan on the stove, I’ve run into the same problem each and every time. Those problems being:
- Less control over how evenly cooked they are
- Browning the outside, but then drying out the middle by the time it’s finished cooking in the sauce
- Wasted time and energy standing in front of the stove
There are a few things happening here, but my main problem is drying out the meatballs. Meatballs that have dried out, lost all moisture, and become crumbly are the opposite of what you want them to come out as.
Half of this problem is the ingredients you’re using (which we’ll talk about) and the other half is the cooking method. Regardless of which way you go, always aim to undercook your meatballs. In fact, my grandmother doesn’t even bother with the stove as well. She just drops them directly into her sauce for about 30 minutes. And they are fantastically moist each time. Without that – flavor is not going to save you.
Baking gives me more control over cooking them evenly, not killing the outside, and not draining the fat out of them too much (cause we want that moisture in!). Also, I cooked all 30 little meatballs at the SAME time. Actually, my oven did while I sat on the couch.
Even though these are baked meatballs, they don’t taste any different from a traditional method of cooking. This method is going to give you the best meatballs in the shortest amount of time.
WHEN TO EAT ITALIAN MEATBALLS
Meatballs in tomato sauce over pasta is a traditional Sunday Italian dinner, however, cooking them on a sheet pan gives you the flexibility to reinterpret this meal. Sometimes I even like to serve them on their own, with some cheese melted over top, sitting in tomato sauce.
Alongside meatballs, you can serve pasta, this big italian antipasto salad, garlic bread, or even just roasted vegetables (like eggplant!). Serving meatballs on their own as a quick dinner makes them an easy weeknight dinner. Just have some tomato sauce on hand.
This is one recipe that will be a sure family favorite. You can also meal prep a big batch of these on a Sunday afternoon and have them throughout the week for lunch with your favorite sauce.
A breakdown of all the ingredients you’ll need to make these meatballs:
Ground meat – The blend of ground meat you use can be up to you. Traditionally it is common to use a blend of ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal. Just using ground pork and ground veal is also common. I have found it hard to find ground veal sometimes, so I will do a blend of ground beef and half ground pork. If you’re relying only on ground beef, make sure the meat is only about 85% lean. This is because lean ground beef tends to dry out and it will leave your meatballs lacking tenderness,
Fresh herbs & spices – you’ll need fresh parsley, not dried parsley. This actually makes a huge difference. You’ll also need garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and pepper. You can feel free to use red pepper flakes to add a kick.
Parmesan cheese – Adds a whole other flavor and saltiness to the mix, you’ll miss it if you skip it
Italian breadcrumbs – This is a little bit contentious because some people like to add a slice of ripped apart stale bread instead of breadcrumbs. While I do like that approach too, I think breadcrumbs gives you a little more control.
Egg – This helps the meatballs hold their shape. One is plenty when working with 1-2 pounds of meat. If you increase the scale of this recipe, be sure to also use two eggs.
Ricotta – This is another rule I break, but I find the moisture it adds into the meatballs is awesome
HOW TO MAKE MEATBALLS
Since we’re baking these in the oven, the whole process to make these is very simple. You’ll just need a baking dish or baking sheet and a large mixing bowl to make this recipe.
- Have your baking dish or sheet prepared in advance, so that once you roll your meatballs, you have a place to put them. Your hands will be messy, so you won’t be able to touch anything once you get going.
- In your large bowl, add the ground meat, all of your seasonings, crushed garlic cloves, parmesan, egg, milk, ricotta, breadcrumbs, fresh parsley, etc. See the full recipe below for quantities.
- It doesn’t matter how you add the ingredients into the bowl as everything is just going to get combined. With clean hands, combine everything until it’s well incorporated. You have to mix this by hand (a spoon will not do), so be prepared that your hands are going to get very cold and slimy!
- Stop combining the meatball mixture once everything comes together. Overmixing will toughen the meat.
- The texture should be sticky enough that you can form a ball and it holds, but not so much that it’s sticking to your hands. If you think the mixture is too dry or sticky, add a small amount of milk. On the other hand, if it’s too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
- If you can let the mixture rest before forming the meatballs, it will let the flavors further develop before baking. Even just 30 minutes can make a difference.
- To make the meatballs, tear off about a tablespoon or two of meat. Roll it between your palms to form a ball. Place meatballs on your prepared baking sheet or dish in a single layer. Keep going until all the meatballs are formed!
- Then you’re going to bake your meatballs at 375 for 9-12 minutes. That’s it!
Slow cooker – these will also come out great in a slow cooker! Just let them cook on high for 2 hours or on slow for 4 hours.
Cooking in sauce – if you’re adding them to an Italian tomato sauce you really don’t need to bake or fry them at all. They will cook in 30 minutes in your sauce. However, if you want to speed things up, you can bake them for just a couple of minutes.
Prosciutto meatballs – sometimes I also like to add thinly sliced prosciutto to my meatballs for the salty pork flavor and it is such a nice unexpected variation!
Mozzarella – another really popular variation is to stuff a cube of mozzarella right in the center of each meatball. This will leave a stringy, melted core once you cut them open!
HOW TO SERVE
I touched on this above, but you can serve meatballs on top of any pasta, in a tomato sauce with Italian sausage, on their own with some salad or roasted eggplant on the side, or as a meatball sub or hero complete with garlic bread and mozzarella!
Each meatball contains 59 calories, has 3 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, and 7.5 grams of protein. A typical serving size would be about 3 meatballs. This makes them an excellent source of protein.
STORING AND REHEATING
Leftover meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can be stored in your sauce too, no need to separate them out. They will keep like this for 3-5 days. You can also freeze them for about 1 month.
Reheating leftover meatballs can be as easy as using the microwave, but it will dry them out a bit. Reheating them in the oven is the best way to ensure they don’t dry out.
AS ALWAYS, IF YOU MAKE THIS – PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW!
Baked Italian Meatballs
- 1 lb 85% ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp oregano
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 3 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
- 3 tbsp ricotta
Prepare a baking sheet or baking dish. For a baking dish, you can spoon tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 375.
In a large bowl, add all of the ingredients above.
With clean hands, combine the meat mixture together.
Once the meat has fully incorporated all the other ingredients, start to roll the meatballs. Take about a tablespoon of meat by estimating and roll between palms. If the meatballs are sticking to your hands too much, add another tbsp of breadcrumbs. If they seem too dry, add a tbsp of milk.
Place the balls into your prepared baking sheet or dish. Continue to do this to the rest if the mixture.
Bake in your dish for 12 minutes.
You can then add your meatballs to your sauce fully cooked, add on top of pasta, or top with mozzarella and place under the broiler
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?
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