It doesn’t get any better than these Homestyle Italian Oven Baked Meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. Simmer the sauce, bake the meatballs, and let the wonderful aromas draw everyone to the kitchen.
Around here, we’re big fans of meatball everything. Often, when I cook a saucy meat dish I’ll ask myself “Can I turn this into a meatball?” like when I made these Butter Chicken Meatballs.
Or, sometimes I just can’t make the meatballs fast enough, so I use my Instant Pot to make this super quick 20 Minute Meatballs and Spaghetti. Now that’s dinner on the table in a hurry!
Oven Baked Meatballs with Sauce
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Lean in closer. Italians know how to make amazing meatballs. Yeah, I said it. These Italian style meatballs are nothing like the ping pong balls I grew up with. Sorry mom, you’re an amazing home cook, just not when it comes to meatballs (or broccoli).
These Oven Baked Meatballs in sauce will fill your home with the most mouth watering aromas. They take a bit of time but the scent of them baking more than makes up for the wait. By the time they are ready to eat, your whole family will be eagerly gathered around the dinner table.
What is a Meatball?
Oh sure, we all know what a meatball is; ground meat rolled into a ball. Sometimes they have other ingredients added to the meat mixture, sometimes they don’t. The resulting orbs are then either fried, baked, steamed, or braised to meaty perfection.
Since I have a huge curiosity about food history, I couldn’t help but digging around to find the origin of meatballs. One of the first historical instances of meatballs occurred in China during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC).
Four Joy Meatballs (or Lion’s Head Meatballs) consist of pork mixed with egg and starch, onion and ginger and are still eaten to this day as part of Chinese New Year celebrations.
Later on, the ancient Roman cookbook Apicius, from the first century AD contains many styles of meatballs from the cuisine at the time. Finally, early Persian cookbooks feature seasoned lamb rolled into orange-sized balls and glazed with egg yolk and sometimes saffron. Doesn’t that sound delicious?!
Ingredients for Oven Baked Meatballs with Sauce
- Ground Beef
- Bread Crumbs
- Dried Basil
- Dried Oregano
- Salt and Pepper
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Italian Parsley
- Fresh Basil
- Fresh Oregano
Whew! I know it seems like a long list for a simple meatball recipe but bear with me. I like the burst of flavour that dried oregano and basil (or Italian Seasoning) add to the meatballs.
Of course you can use fresh, seeing as they’re already part of the sauce ingredients. However, fresh herbs are a MUST for the sauce. It just makes it so much brighter in flavour.
Leave out the halved cherry tomatoes or balls of bocconcini, if you like. You can also replace the cheese balls with shredded mozzarella, provolone, or asiago.
Using a good quality Passata makes all the difference to this sauce. Make your own with ripe red Romas or buy a jar (not can) of passata. It makes the world of a difference in flavour.
What is the Best Meat for Meatballs?
While many recipes call for a blend of ground pork and beef, this meatball recipe is 100% all beef, all of the time. The trick is to find the freshest ground beef (we love ground chuck) at your local butcher shop. The beef to fat ratio is important too (because there’s no pork involved).
For this recipe, the beef to fat ratio is 80:20. This is just enough fat to result in a perfectly moist meatball without it being greasy. The fine bread crumbs and beaten egg also help to give these meatballs their fabulous texture.
How to Make Oven Baked Meatballs
These meatballs are essentially twice baked but don’t worry, they aren’t dry or tough. They simply undergo a quick sear in a hot oven before being immersed into the bubbling tomato sauce. Don’t skip this essential step because it locks in all the moisture!
Preheat oven 400F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a large bowl combine the ground chuck with the bread crumbs, a beaten egg, basil and oregano. Season the meat mixture with salt and pepper. If you like a spicy meatball, add 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.
Use a spoon to cut and mix the meat until it is well mixed. Be gentle, yet firm as it is very easy to overwork the meat and end up with tough meatballs.
Some people like to make long snakes with the meat mixture, then cut equal parts before shaping it into balls. You can if you like, I’m not that exact. I just spoon up a bit of meat mixture and start rolling.
Eventually you’ll be able to tell if there are any size differences as you roll each meatball. It just takes a bit of practice. Arrange each meatball on the foil or parchment paper lined baking sheet as you finish it.
If you have any meat left over, scan the formed meatballs and add a bit to each one that looks like it may be a bit smaller than the rest.
Bake the meatballs in a 400F oven for 12 minutes, no longer. The idea is to par bake them, not cook them all the way through.
A Simple Tomato Sauce
While the meatballs are baking, make a quick sauce. Saute finely diced onion and garlic in an ovenproof skillet with a bit of olive oil. Add passata, fresh basil, oregano, and allow it to come to a gentle simmer. Stir in the sugar and let it simmer gently over medium low heat until the meatballs are done.
When the meatballs are done par baking, remove pan of sauce from the heat and arrange the meatballs in the pan in a single layer. Place the halved cherry tomatoes and bocconcini in the gaps between the meatballs.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and bake for 30 minutes, or until sauce has reduced slightly and cheese is melted and golden.
Remove from the oven and garnish with chopped Italian parsley. Serve with cooked spaghetti, as an appetizer on toasted crostini or in a toasted submarine bun. Top with finely grated Parmesan, if desired.
Make Ahead Meal in Minutes
These oven baked meatballs are the perfect make ahead meal. In fact, I often make a double batch so I can freeze the other half. Having easy freezer dinners that you can reheat in minutes is so handy!
I don’t fuss about with reheating them in the oven. Thaw the frozen meatballs out in the fridge or place directly in a saucepan. Add a few tablespoons of water.
Cover and allow the meatballs to heat up slowly on medium low heat. Stir often to prevent scorching. If you time it right, they will be fully warmed up by the time the spaghetti is ready.
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