classic italian meat-a-balls


It all started with the sauce.

My mom’s friend Stacy makes this incredible pasta sauce. The perfectly ripened tomatoes and sweet basil just shine, miraculously enough, without added sugar. It’s so good, it sent me on an epic quest to make the classic meatball.

During this time, after several iterations of this recipe, I discovered a few meatball best practices:

  1. Don’t make meatballs when you’re angry. You want to gently combine all the ingredients with the grace and patience of an Italian grandmother. If you don’t, your meatballs won’t have that soft, beautiful texture. On a related note, you’ll make the best meatballs if you listen to Sinatra while you make them. It’s a scientific fact. Don’t squeeze the life out of your meatballs!
  2. You gotta add some stuff — although paleo, all-meat meatballs have their place, I still haven’t found a way to make them have the same texture as ones mixed with some savory parm and panko. You can replace the panko with gluten-free panko to make them gluten-free.
  3. Use at least 2 types of meat. I’ve found that I like combining ground pork and ground beef, but I’ve seen people use sausage, ground veal, etc. The combination of beef and pork gives you that classic Italian meatball taste, but feel free to experiment to discover what your heart wants.

These meatballs are fun and easy to make: Simply mix everything around in a large mixing bowl, scoop them out with an ice cream scoop, bake them, and then simmer them in sauce.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share this dirty little secret: These meatballs are INSANELY DELICIOUS if you simmer them in the roasted red pepper and tomato bisque. Both recipes are great for meal prep because they keep well in the fridge or freezer. I say make double batches of both and have yourself a week of delicious Italian food.

Servings: 6ish

Total Cook/Prep Time: 50 minutes


  • Large mixing bowl
  • 2 cookie sheets (1 is fine, just bake in two batches, then simmer together)
  • Large skillet, pot, or Dutch oven (for simmering)
  • Ice cream scoop (optional, but helps you create even-sized meatballs)


  • 1 lb. ground pork (pastured, local if possible!)
  • 1 lb. ground beef (grass-fed preferred, around 15% fat)
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese (real cheese!)
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs* (or gluten-free panko breadcrumbs for GF)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • marinara sauce of choice
  • olive oil
  • more parmesan and crushed red pepper, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 375. Prepare your cookie sheets with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat your egg. Then, add the rest of the ingredients except the oil, marinara, and extra parm. Gently mix the ingredients together with your hands.
  3. Use an ice cream scoop to measure out equal sized meatballs. My ice cream scoop is quite large, so I split each scoop into two equally-sized meatballs (about an inch in diameter). The key is to make them all the same size, so they cook evenly.
  4. Place meatballs on your prepared cookie sheets with a little room between them. Drizzle oil over the meatballs, then place the sheets in the oven.
  5. Bake for about 25 minutes, until they’re brown on the outside and cooked throughout — cut one open to check.
  6. Warm your marinara sauce in your skillet/pot/Dutch oven, then add the meatballs, tossing them around in the sauce gently to coat them. Simmer with a lid on for about 20-30 minutes.
  7. Serve with more parmesan, crushed red pepper, and fresh basil if you have some. These are great with a salad like my lemony arugula salador tossed with brown rice fusilli (or other pasta) as pictured.



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