italian meatballs with marinara sauce

Hearty Italian Meatballs in Homemade Marinara Sauce Recipe

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!

italian meatballs with marinara sauce

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!

italian meatballs with marinara sauce

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 sautĂ©ed 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!

italian meatballs with marinara sauce


  • 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!

italian meatballs with marinara sauce

Looking for more simple dinner ideas?

Hearty Italian Meatballs with Homemade Marinara Sauce

4 from 18 votes
Recipe by Kevin Lee Course: Main CourseCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time



These Italian meatballs with a homemade marinara sauce is the perfect way to fancify a simple spaghetti and meatballs. These classic Italian meatballs are light, fluffy, and moist and paired with a simple and bright tomato sauce. Eat them the Italian way, with toasted bread, or with some spaghetti!


  • Homemade Marinara Sauce
  • 1/2 yellow onion (diced)

  • 5 cloves garlic (minced)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 can (28oz) tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes if possible)

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 sprig basil

  • 1 bay leaf

  • Salt (to taste)

  • Meatballs
  • 8 oz ground beef (85% or 90% lean)

  • 8 oz ground pork

  • 1/4 yellow onion (minced)

  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)

  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (more for topping)

  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)

  • 1 egg (beaten)

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Pepper

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil

  • Equipment
  • Saucepan or deep skillet

  • Mixing bowl

  • Baking sheet with parchment paper


  • Homemade Marinara Sauce (can be made up to 5 days in advance)
  • Heat up a saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the olive oil and swirl around the pan. When the oil is hot, add the diced onions and cook until they are translucent and soft, about 5 minutesitalian meatballs with marinara sauce cooked onions
  • Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the entire can of tomatoes and crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon or spatula. Swirl some water around in the can to clean out the can and add to the pan as well (I usually use about 1/2 cup of water)
  • Add the dried oregano, basil, bay leaf, and salt and stir to combine. Bring the sauce up to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes (if the sauce gets too dry, add a bit more water)italian meatballs with marinara sauce cooking the sauceitalian meatballs with marinara sauce done cooking sauce
  • If making the sauce in advance, pour the sauce into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Otherwise, leave the sauce in the pan and proceed to making the meatballs
  • Meatballs
  • Combine panko and milk in a bowl and set aside (this gives the panko time to fully soak up the milk)italian meatballs with marinara sauce panko soaked with milk
  • Using your hands, work gently to combine the ground beef, ground pork, minced onions, and minced garlic together in a large mixing bowl. Make sure that everything is evenly mixed, but don’t overwork the meat
  • Add the panko mixture, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, egg, salt, and pepper and gently mix together with a forkitalian meatballs with marinara sauce meatball mixture
  • With your hands, shape the mixture into balls, about 1 or 2 inches in diameter depending on your preference (smaller ones will be better if eating with spaghetti). Again, work gently and don’t press too hard when making the meatballs. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as you make each one to prevent them from stickingitalian meatballs with marinara sauce meatballs rolled
  • Heat up a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cooking oil when the pan is hot. Gently place the meatballs one at a time into the skillet, leaving some space between each one so they don’t steam (you’ll probably have to make the meatballs in two batches at least). Sear the meatballs until they are browned, about 2 minutes, then flip and sear again for 2 more sides. Remove from the pan onto a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballsitalian meatballs with marinara sauce searing meatballsitalian meatballs with marinara sauce seared meatballs
  • Once all the meatballs are browned, heat up the sauce over medium heat until it starts bubbling. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce and rotate them so they’re completely covered with sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid on, flipping the meatballs occasionally so they braise evenlyitalian meatballs with marinara sauce meatballs cooking in sauce
  • Remove from the pan into a bowl or plate and grate some more Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Serve immediately! We love eating our meatballs with some fresh baked garlic bread, but of course, you can’t go wrong with eating it with spaghetti as well!

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These Italian meatballs with a homemade marinara sauce is the perfect way to fancify a simple spaghetti and meatballs. These classic Italian meatballs are light, fluffy, and moist and paired with a simple and bright tomato sauce. Eat them the Italian way, with toasted bread, or with some spaghetti!

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