Cooking dinner doesn’t have to be hard, especially when meatballs are on the menu. Try this simple recipe for easy Italian meatballs anyone can make.
It’s mid-October, and there is finally a chill in the air on the mountain, which has me wanting comfort food. One dish that immediately comes to mind is this easy Italian meatball recipe. The tender, juicy Italian meatballs simmer in a pot of rich tomato sauce before smothering pasta. It’s the ultimate comfort food. I am practically drooling just thinking about them.
There are so many recipes out there for Italian meatballs. If you Google “Italian meatballs,” you will see a list of meatball recipes handed down by Italian grandmothers. The ingredients vary from the types of meat to the different cheeses, breadcrumbs, and herbs used. The number of recipes for homemade meatballs is overwhelming.
If you have been trying to find a good meatball recipe, start with this one! I promise these will be the best meatballs you’ll ever make! I know this because David hasn’t stopped talking about them since I made them.
These Italian meatballs are, as David says: “slap your grandmama good!”
So, let’s get down to the basics of these easy Italian meatballs…
What’s In Easy Italian Meatballs?
The following is a breakdown of the basic ingredients in these Italian meatballs: a 50/50 blend of pork and beef, bread crumbs, shallots, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and herbs. Let’s talk about each a little more in-depth…
I used a mixture of equal parts of pork and beef for this meatball recipe. I chose a hot Italian sausage and ground chuck. Adding hot Italian sausage is my new thing when making an Italian meat sauce for almost everything. Not only does the Italian sausage provide flavor, but the sausage also provides more fat for the meatballs to give them added moisture. The end result is tender, juicy meatballs packed with spice and flavor.
Use the meat you prefer veal, ground turkey or chicken, ground pork, or even meatloaf mix found in the meat case of your local grocery store. It works just fine.
I know, the what?!? What is a panade? A panade is a culinary term that refers to a 50/50 mixture of starch and liquid added to ground meat to help bind it together and prevent the meat proteins from shrinking and becoming tough.
This is where breadcrumbs come into play. Meatball recipes typically call for some type of starch, usually breadcrumbs, but the starch doesn’t have to be breadcrumbs. The starch could be panko or even cracker crumbs.
The starch is then mixed with a liquid: milk, yogurt, meat stock, or water. Regardless of how the panade is made, using panade instead of dried breadcrumbs will make the meatballs less dense and more tender.
I use one cup of bread cut into cubes and one cup of milk for this recipe. I toss the bread in the milk and allow it to absorb for about 5 minutes.
To be honest, I didn’t even use fancy bread, just three or four pieces of torn-up loaf bread we had in the pantry. I like the consistency of whole pieces of bread and find the finished meatball texture less mealy or grainy than if I had used just dried breadcrumbs ground into finer crumbs.
Regarding flavor, the meatballs are off to a good start with the hot Italian sausage. I try to balance the flavor by adding shallots. I like shallots because of the texture they bring to the meatballs, not to mention the sweet, mild flavor they have without the bite you typically get from a yellow or white onion.
Together, shallots and garlic provide a savory, sweet contrast that complements the fresh taste of the parsley, and since the Italian sausage has its own herbs and spices, the parsley was just enough.
Salt is very important when making meatballs. Without it, the meatballs would be bland and lifeless. However, you must be careful when adding a salty cheese like Parmesan. Usually, a good rule of thumb is to season with half the amount of salt you normally would when using Parmesan cheese.
Usually, in our recipes, I say “salt to taste,” but in this recipe, the amount of salt and cheese is very important, and the teaspoon of salt in this recipe is just right when using Parmesan cheese.
It’s important to know that adding an egg to the meatballs does not mean adding more moisture just because they are slimy and gooey. On the contrary, the egg acts as a glue that binds everything together and keeps all the ingredients from falling apart. You should never need more than one to two eggs in any meatball recipe. If you add too many eggs, the meatballs will be dense and spongy. Start with one, and add another if the meatballs fall apart when shaping. Usually, one is plenty.
How to Make Italian Meatballs
Here’s a basic overview of how to make the meatballs. The recipe card at the end of this post provides detailed instructions with times and temperatures.
Add all the ingredients to the bowl simultaneously and use clean, wet hands to mix the meatball mixture to assemble the meatballs. Mix lightly with your hands to incorporate all the ingredients, but do not over-mix or squeeze the meat too hard. Overworking the meat will cause the meatballs to be tough.
Once the meatball mixture is well incorporated, use a two-inch scoop to form (24) 2-inch meatballs. There’s no law that says you have to have exactly twenty-four 2-inch meatballs. Make them any size you want, but make sure they are equal in
TIP: Use wet hands! The water will repel oils from the meat, allowing you to mix without getting the ingredients all over your hands.
Cooking & Simmering
The Maillard Reaction is the reaction that comes from the heating of amino acids found in protein and sugar. This reaction gives browned foods desirable flavor, so ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS sear your meatballs and give them a nice brown crust before braising!
You can brown the meatballs in a skillet, but it takes a while. I have found that the quickest and easiest way to consistently cook meatballs is to bake them in a preheated 400-degree F oven until nice and golden, about 20 to 30 minutes.
When the meatballs are nice and golden brown, remove them from the oven and drop them into your favorite tomato sauce to braise for at least 20 minutes and not a minute less. Don’t worry; it is really hard to overcook meatballs when they are in the sauce.
Serve the meatballs over spaghetti, with extra parmesan cheese and fresh basil, or even as meatball subs. Yum!
[CLICK HERE] To read more about browning meat and why you shouldn’t overcrowd the pan.
Freezing, Defrosting & Reheating
These meatballs are the perfect make-ahead dish for freezing! You can freeze them, uncooked or cooked, for up to three to four months, while cooked ground beef is safe for two to three months.
How To Freeze Uncooked Meatballs
Simply line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the meatballs on the prepared cookie sheet and pop them into the freezer for about one to two hours (set a timer so you don’t forget them). When the meatballs are frozen, remove the sheet when the meatballs are frozen and transfer them to freezer-safe zip-top bags or containers.
How To Freeze Cooked Meatballs
Allow the cooked meatballs to cool slightly, then freeze them immediately.
How To Defrost and Reheat UNCOOKED Meatballs
Remove the package of frozen meatballs from the freezer the day before you are ready to cook them, and place the frozen package of meatballs in the refrigerator to defrost overnight. Then cook as directed in this recipe.
Empty the frozen meatballs into a microwave-safe dish and defrost them according to microwave settings, then cook them immediately. However, I don’t like defrosting meat in the microwave because I find it hard not to cook it, regardless of my settings.
To Defrost and Reheat COOKED Meatballs
If you’ve frozen meatballs with sauce, reheat the meatballs in sauce in the oven or a skillet on the stovetop.
So, there you have it. These easy Italian meatballs are simple to make using basic ingredients for the most well-balanced meatballs you’ll ever put in your mouth!
I hope you find this Italian meatball recipe as easy and delicious as ours!
Easy Baked Italian Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
- 1 cup bread cubes 3 slices of loaf bread
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 shallot minced
- ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan fresh grated
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Add the bread cubes to a saucer and pour the milk over them. Toss the bread cubes to coat in milk; set aside at least 5-minutes while the bread absorbs the milk.
- Next chop the shallot, garlic, and parsley. After they are chopped lightly squeeze out the excess milk from the bread cubes.
- Assemble the meatballs:
- Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Mix the meatball mixture lightly with clean, wet hands to incorporate all the ingredients. Do not over mix or squeeze the meat too hard. Overworking the meat will cause the meatballs to be tough.
- After the meatball mixture is well incorporated, use a two-inch scoop to form (24) 2-inch meatballs. (There’s no law that says you have to have exactly twenty-four 2-inch meatballs. Make them any size you want, but make sure they are equal in size so that they cook consistently.)
- Place the meatballs on a broiling pan or foil-lined sheet pan. Place the pan of meatballs into the oven and bake, until lightly crisp and golden brown; about 20 to 30 minutes.
- When the meatballs are nice and golden brown, remove them from the oven and drop them into your favorite tomato sauce to braise for at least 20 minutes and not a minute less. Don’t worry, it is really hard to overcook meatballs when they are in the sauce.
- Serve the meatballs over pasta, with extra parmesan cheese, and fresh basil, or even topped on a big sub roll. Yum!