Do you have any recipes that are always a huge hit?
You know the kind. The family consistently requests these favorites for special occasions. Friends are excited all day when they’re on the menu. And at the dinner table, all you hear is mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm…
I’ve got a few of these winners, and this recipe for Italian Meat Balls with Marinara is right near the top of the list. I’ve been making this Italian classic for over 25 years, (see the recipe for tricks I’ve learned after many repeat performances) and it never fails to bring rave reviews and requests for second (or third!) helpings.
A while back, our daughter, Cait, shared a post on The Café, featuring this Best Ever Marinara Sauce that I always use with these meatballs . Simmered for hours, it’s thick, rich red and loaded with amazing flavor. It’s fabulous on it’s own, and can be used for just about any Italian dish that calls for a red sauce. It’s perfect for manicotti, lasagna, eggplant Parmigiana and more, but our favorite way to serve it is combined with these wonderful Italian meatballs.
Cait uses this sauce to make a fabulous Chicken Caprese, with boneless chicken breasts. She just buries them in a pan of this flavorful marinara and adds a topping of fresh mozzarella. After a short stint in the oven, (perfectly cooking the chicken and melting the cheese) she adds a scatter of fresh basil. It’s an easy and delicious dinner.
The cast of characters is what makes these meatballs so delicious; lean ground beef, Italian sausage, fresh bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic, basil and oregano.
After mixing and shaping into balls, (I use plastic gloves*** to mix the ingredients and an ice cream scoop to scoop up the meat mixture), the meatballs are baked until golden, then finished with a brief simmer in the flavorful marinara.
This is not a 30-minute meal recipe, but it’s great for a stay-at-home day. While you’re busy with other tasks, the amazing sauce will simmer away, filling your home with the aroma of a delicious, authentic Italian Ristorante.
Often, I double the meatball recipe and, after adding them to the marinara, freeze meal-size portions. On busy days or when I’m expecting guests, I’ll pull a container or two out of the freezer early in the day. We have a fabulous dinner that evening, with minimal effort for me.
In addition to serving over pasta, these tasty meatballs make the best sandwiches, piled into crisp baguettes and topped with melted fresh mozzarella. I’ve also served them in pocket pitas and as a fun topping for pizzas.
This is a keeper-recipe, for sure. Try it, I have a feeling it will become one of your favorites that’s requested again and again!
- 1½ pounds ground beef lean
- ½ lb. Italian sausage casings removed
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs* see note below
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
- ½ large onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons dry basil
- 1- 1 ½ teaspoons salt** see note below
- ½ teaspoon pepper fresh ground
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Best Ever Marinara Sauce
Combine all ingredients except oil in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until well combined**.
Form mixture into 1 1/2 inch meatballs. (An ice cream scooper works great to scoop up the meat.)
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Place meatballs on a sheet pan lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil to save on clean up. Drizzle oil over meatballs and turn to coat. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until lightly browned (parmesan cheese will be oozing a bit. Remove and let drain on paper towels.
Add to Best Ever Marinara Sauce and simmer for 20 minutes.
*I like to use a good quality baguette for this (The bread doesn't have to be super fresh, a bit stale is fine). I just break it in pieces and use some long pulses in food processor till the crumbs are fairly small. About 1/4 of an average size baguette will yield 1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs. You can also use (the same quantity of) dried bread crumbs but the meatballs will be a bit more dense.
** It can be difficult to get the right amount of saltiness in meatballs. Everyone's taste is different and each brand of Italian sausage is different in salt content. I like to start with a smaller amount. of salt After I have all the ingredients mixed together, I form a small ball (about 1/2 inch in diameter). I fold a paper towel in quarters and wrap the little meatball inside. A 20-30 second stint in the microwave is all it takes to cook the meatball. I let it cool a bit then taste it to see if it more salt is needed.
*** It's difficult to mix up meatballs unless you use your hands. I always hated the mess and my hands got so cold. I decided to try using dishwashing gloves and keep a pair just for making meatballs (I mark them with a laundry marker just to make sure they're not used for anything else. When I'm done, I wash my hands (with the gloves on) with lots of soap and rub till they're squeaky clean. I dry my (gloved) hands well with a paper towel and store the gloves in a zippered plastic bag till my next meatball adventure.