Hey everyone, it’s Kevin here! Today I’m sharing with you a homemade fancier version of one of my favorite childhood school lunches—Italian meatballs with a delicious homemade marinara sauce!
In elementary and middle school, I was always excited when our cafeteria had spaghetti and meatballs for lunch. I don’t know what kinds of stuff they put into those cafeteria lunches, but regardless, I shoveled those meatballs and noodles soaked with sauce into my mouth. These Italian meatballs in homemade tomato sauce are an homage to those fond childhood memories but are made with ingredients I know are healthy, and they also taste so much better! They’re made with a simple ground beef and ground pork mixture and paired with a bright homemade marinara sauce, and it has become one of my go-to weeknight dinners!
How to make the PERFECT Italian meatball
What are some words that you would use to describe a perfect Italian meatball? To me, words like light, fluffy, moist, and flavorful come to mind.
For starters, Italian meatballs are typically made with a combination ground beef, ground pork, or Italian sausage. In this recipe, I chose to use just ground beef and ground pork as I found that I could get enough flavor without using sausage, and it may be more difficult for some people to find Italian sausage in their local grocery store. However, feel free to try using Italian sausage as well! If you do, replace 4oz of the ground pork with the Italian sausage.
To make these meatballs light, fluffy, and moist, the key ingredient is a mixture made with bread crumbs and milk. This mixture is called a panade and is the most important ingredient in a meatball (other than the meat of course) that many people don’t even realize is used! Normally, ground meat will quickly become dry when cooked (think a well-done burger) but the panade prevents the proteins from shrinking and squeezing out all their moisture, yielding fluffy meatballs.
In order to make these Italian meatballs truly shine, they are packed with some classic Italian ingredients to bring that authentic taste straight to your kitchen. In addition to onion and garlic, fresh chopped parsley adds some brightness to the dish, while grated Parmigiano-Reggiano brings a more savory and rich flavor. In addition to these, some other popular ingredients include oregano and red pepper flakes. Feel free to experiment to find your favorite balance!
Homemade Marinara Sauce
This isn’t your 8-hour slow-cooked super deep and rich tomato sauce (although I do love those as well). This marinara sauce is meant to be bright and tomatoey with lots of fresh flavors. I won’t say if it tastes better or worse than a slow-cooked tomato sauce, but it takes a hell-of-a-lot less time (the sauce takes less than 30 minutes total).
The key to this bright marinara sauce is using a few simple ingredients that don’t need to be cooked forever to release their flavors. Onions and garlic are sautéed first to help them start releasing their flavor, and to get some Maillard reaction flavors. Then the tomatoes are added along with the aromatics, such as oregano, bay leaf, and basil. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes and your sauce is ready!
- Get high-quality canned tomatoes if you can. Because the sauce is only lightly simmered and meant to have a light and bright tomato flavor, the quality of the tomatoes really makes a difference in the sauce. You can’t go wrong with getting San Marzano tomatoes (can be found in most grocery stores), or you can try experimenting with some other high-quality brands.
- Be gentle! I can’t emphasize this enough. When combining all the ingredients in a bowl, work gently with your hands or a fork to avoid compacting the mixture too much. When forming the meatballs, gently shape the meat into a ball, just until it can hold its shape. Overworked or compressed meatballs will end up dry and dense instead of fluffy and moist.
- Make some extra and freeze them! These meatballs are perfect for freezing and reheating on a busy weeknight! Just place the meatballs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then put that in the freezer until the meatballs are frozen. Then move them into a Ziploc bag and store for up to a month. To reheat, defrost the meatballs in the fridge overnight and then proceed with the recipe.
Ready to make these hearty Italian meatballs with a bright homemade marinara sauce? Let’s get started!
Looking for more simple dinner ideas?
- Baked Garlic Butter Salmon in Foil
- Soy Sauce Chicken Chow Mein
- Flavorful and Tender Stovetop Asian Grilled Chicken Breast
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