A few weeks ago I wanted to make a dinner the entire family would love. Something Lincoln wouldn’t be skeptical of, Ben wouldn’t need a peanut butter sandwich after, and that I would feel good about feeding to all three of us. Meatballs randomly popped into my head, and after a quick Google search I decided on Classic Italian Meatballs. We had all the ingredients on hand, the prep list was short, and the recipe promised greatness…and 1,000% delivered.
Soft and creamy, the meatballs tasted like the baseball-sized ones I used to get nestled into spaghetti noodles at my family’s favorite Italian restaurant growing up. Ben took one bite and said, “Babe, these are incredible!” (hence the name Incredible Italian Meatballs.) Ben doesn’t say anything is incredible very often, so I knew I’d hit the jackpot.
I want to heavily credit Nagi at RecipeTin Eats for this recipe, which I only adapted to remove gluten and dairy (for Lincoln,) as the bones are the same. This recipe is going to become a signature dish for you. One that your kids, spouse, and/or roomies will ask for week after week.
The secret to Incredible Italian Meatballs is using torn, squishy gluten-free white bread (read on for my favorite brands) instead of bread crumbs, which create fall apart-tender meatballs with an almost toasted bread crumb taste. The other is using high quality marinara sauce to simmer them in. Both create meatballs that taste like they came from the kitchen of your Italian Grandmother, aka really authentic and absolutely decadent tasting. I can’t wait for you to try this recipe!
You’ll need 1/2 cup grated onion + juices for the meatballs, which I found was easiest to achieve by using the fine side of a box grater. I’ve also used a coarse microplane, but the box grater works best. Just make sure you’re not using the big side, which you’d use to grate cheese, as the grated onion ends up too large and doesn’t melt into the meatballs.
Add the grated onion plus juices to 1 cup small torn pieces of soft gluten-free white bread in a big bowl then let soak for a minute. Gluten-free bread is known for being hard as a rock and/or super crumbly, but there are two brands I’ve had great success with in this recipe – MyBread gluten-free flatbread (found at Whole Foods,) and Canyon Bakehouse Mountain White bread (found at Hy-Vee and Super Target.) Whatever bread you go with (and you could totally use regular white sandwich bread if you’re not GF,) make sure the crusts and any tough pieces are removed before you tear them into small pieces.
Resist the urge to crumble the bread into crumbs as the big pieces totally make both the flavor and texture of these meatballs!
Next add 1 egg, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 Tablespoon dried parsley, salt, and pepper to the bowl then stir to combine.
Finally, crumble 1-1/4lb 85/15 ground beef over the top, mix with your hands until well combined, then shape into 18-20 golf ball-sized meatballs. I think the fattier ground beef makes for a more luscious, creamy meatball and highly recommend.
Time to start cooking! Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (at least 10″ – a cast iron works best,) over medium/medium-high heat (6/10 on the heat scale,) then add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom in a thin layer. Carefully add half the meatballs then saute until they’re browned on all sides but not entirely cooked through.
As I’ve mentioned, these meatballs are really soft and creamy, so be as gentle as you can when turning to brown on all sides. Tongs work fine but a spoon will help keep their ball shape even better. Once the first batch is thoroughly browned on all sides, remove to a plate then repeat with the second batch.
Once the second batch of meatballs has browned, carefully add the first batch back into the skillet then remove it from the heat for a minute to cool down. Carefully add 24oz marinara sauce to the skillet then use a spoon to make sure all the meatballs are covered in sauce. Turn the heat down to medium-low then return the skillet to the heat and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15-20 minutes, gently basting and turning the meatballs over every so often. If the sauce gets too thick as it reduces, add in a glug of chicken broth.
This is definitely a recipe you’ll want a good marinara sauce for. Pass on the Prego and Ragu and spring for a $5-8 dollar jar that has no added sugar and a clean ingredient list (or make your own if you have the time!) It 100% makes a difference at the end taste-wise, especially because the sauce reduces as the meatballs cook. Right now I am L-O-V-I-N-G Bove’s Marinara Sauce which costs $5, is gluten and dairy-free, and is stocked in my regular grocery store’s (Hy-Vee) health food section. You’ll love it!
Once the meatballs are fully cooked, swirl cooked spaghetti on a plate (timing instructions for cooking the pasta are in the recipe below,) then top with a few creamy, classic, INCREDIBLE meatballs, and dig in!
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Incredible Italian Meatballs
Incredible Italian Meatballs are just that - incredible! Soft and savory, these gluten-free, classic Italian meatballs will quickly become a family favorite.
- 1 cup small torn pieces of soft gluten-free white bread (no crusts)
- 1/2 cup finely grated onion + juices
- 1 egg, whisked
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
- salt and pepper
- 1-1/4lb 85/15 ground beef
- extra virgin olive oil
- 24oz jar gluten-free marinara sauce (I love Bove's)
- chicken broth
- 1lb gluten-free spaghetti
- Mix white bread and grated onion in a large bowl then let soak for a minute. Add egg, garlic, dried parsley, salt, and pepper then mix to combine. Crumble ground beef over mixture then use hands to mix until just combined. Shape into golf ball-sized meatballs (about 18-20) then place onto a plate.
- Add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (at least 10") then preheat over medium/medium-high heat (6/10 on the heat scale.) Add half the meatballs then saute until evenly browned on all sides but not completely cooked through, carefully turning the meatballs with tongs or a spoon as they will be very soft. Transfer browned meatballs to a plate. Brown second batch of meatballs then gently add the first batch back into the skillet. Remove skillet from heat to cool down for a minute.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season with salt, add pasta, and then cook according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, carefully pour marinara sauce into the skillet then use a spoon to gently coat all the meatballs in the sauce. Return skillet to the burner then turn heat down to medium-low and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15-20 minutes, basting and gently turning meatballs over in the sauce with a spoon every so often. If meatballs are taking too long to cook (meaning they didn't cook enough during the browning process,) place a lid or crimp a piece of foil on top of the skillet then simmer until cooked through. If sauce gets too thick while simmering, add in a glug of chicken broth.
- Drain pasta then serve with meatballs and sauce.
- I like to add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil into the sauce while the meatballs are simmering to add a little extra richness.
- I have used both MyBread flatbread and Canyon Bakehouse Mountain White bread in this recipe and both work great. Just don't include any tough/hard pieces and/or crusts.
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.
Once your family tastes these incredible meatballs, it’ll be hard serving them plain meat sauce or store-bought meatballs. Spaghetti night will never be the same (in a really good way!) Enjoy!