This Italian meatball marinara recipe includes a delicious balance of ground beef, Italian sausage, bread crumbs, buttermilk, cheese, onion, garlic, and tons of Italian seasoning. After briefly frying or broiling the meatballs, they are slowly baked in rich homemade marinara sauce until they are tender, juicy, and mouthwateringly delicious.
FOR THE MARINARA SAUCE:
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 tbsp dried Italian seasoning
- 1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Three 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes (I prefer to use fire roasted tomatoes.)
- 3/4 cup dry red wine
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh minced parsley
- 1/2 cup fresh minced basil
FOR THE MEATBALLS:
- 1/4 cup olive oil (If frying the meatballs instead of broiling. *See note.)
- 1 1/2 cups of bread cubes cut or torn into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 lb (16 oz) ground beef, 85 – 90% lean
- 1 pound (16 oz) ground Italian sausage, spicy or sweet
- 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten with a fork
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
- 3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- 3/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp minced garlic (about 4–6 large cloves)
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp dried Italian herb seasoning
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
MAKE THE MARINARA SAUCE:
- Add the onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, sugar, salt, and pepper to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until the ingredients form a paste.
- Pour the olive oil into a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan or dutch oven and add the vegetable mixture. Set the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes.
- Add one of the cans of crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until thick and darkened in color – about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the wine, the rest of the crushed tomatoes, and the Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil and cook, partially covered to avoid splatters, over medium low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally. After cooking for an hour, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir in the fresh parsley, but reserve the basil. It will be added later, after the meatballs have cooked in the sauce.
*While the marinara sauce simmers away on the stove, make the meatballs.
MAKE THE MEATBALLS:
- If broiling the meatballs: Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. Spray a broiler pan with non-stick spray. Alternatively, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and top with a wire baking rack. Spray the baking rack with non-stick spray.
- If frying the meatballs: Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Add 1/4 cup olive oil to a large, heavy bottom skillet or saucepan and set aside.
- Add the bread cubes and buttermilk to a large bowl and let sit, mashing with a fork occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the bread is breaking down and the mixture resembles a paste.
- Add all remaining meatball ingredients to the bowl with the bread cubes and buttermilk. Mix with your hands until all the ingredients are well combined.
- Test the meatball seasoning: Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Make one small meatball – about the size of a ping pong or golf ball. Fry the meatball in the skillet for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until deeply browned and crispy. Remove the meatball from the skillet, taste it for seasoning, and adjust your meatball mixture if necessary.
- Form the mixture balls that are about the size of a pingpong or golf ball and place on prepared broiler pan or baking rack, or sheet pan.
- To broil the meatballs: Broil meatballs for about 30 minutes, until they are well browned.
- To fry the meatballs: Set the skillet with olive oil in it over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add about 8 – 10 meatballs to the pan. Let cook, turning every so often, until the meatballs are browned on all sides. Remove the browned meatballs from the pan and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
- Cook the meatballs in the marinara sauce: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Nestle the meatballs in the marinara sauce. Cover and bake 1 hour.
- Remove from the oven and gently stir in the fresh basil. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.