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Hearty Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

This recipe for Meatballs in Marinara Sauce is entirely ‘guest-worthy’ when company comes and never fails to satisfy everyone at my table!

Ladle these perfectly juicy meatballs and slow simmered tomato sauce atop a bed of pasta or lightly toast hoagie rolls and serve as a hefty handheld topped with shredded mozzarella cheese or melty provolone cheese. 

a white bowl with a red napkin, with spaghetti and meatballs and marinara sauce
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC

More often than not, I am craving comfort food. Sometimes that craving equals pasta, but other times, just a big hunk of garlic bread or focaccia to mop up an exceptionally flavorful marinara sauce.

Homemade meatballs are in a comfort meal class by themselves, and if constructed deliciously, do not require anything more than a shallow bowl, some freshly grated parmesan cheese, and a glass of Beaujolais to make the meal.

That’s right…no pasta. Just a damn good meatball and heaps of flavorful sauce.

Tender meatballs assembled with a pork, veal, and a chuck or lean ground beef meat mixture, both dried and fresh herbs, and a quadrilogy of cheeses are seared in a hot skillet before being simmered in a delicious homemade marinara sauce over medium heat for about an hour.

The results are award-winning. Jarred spaghetti sauce has NOTHING on this method!

Ingredients for Meatballs with Marinara Sauce

for the marinara sauce

  • olive oil
  • fresh garlic cloves
  • dried parsley
  • dried basil
  • fresh basil
  • red wine
  • canned whole peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano’s
  • Kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • granulated sugar

optional

  • rind of parmesan or other aged hard cheese

for the meatballs

  • olive oil
  • fresh rosemary branches
  • fresh garlic cloves
  • ground pork
  • ground beef chuck
  • ground veal
  • provolone cheese shredded from a large block
  • whole-milk ricotta
  • parmesan cheese grated from a large block
  • pecorino cheese grated from a large block
  • seasoned bread crumbs
  • large eggs

optional

  • tomato confit (fresh tomatoes and garlic cloves baked in olive oil for 25 minutes)

optional for serving

  • cooked spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • toasted sub roll or hoagie roll
  • Italian parsley
raw ground beef and ground veal in a bowl, with grated cheese and Italian herbs

How to Make Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

Make a Simple Marinara for Meatballs

Heat a couple tablespoons of a quality olive oil in a 6-quart saucepan. To the hot oil, add 3 finely chopped cloves of fresh garlic, cooking for 45 seconds to 1 minute before adding dried parsley, dried basil, half a packed cup of fresh basil leaves (and stems, just tear them off), and a full cup of a good dry red wine.

Bring to a low simmer and add a generous amount of Kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and two 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano’s.

Do you know how I am constantly professing saving those seeming spent blocks of cheese for the rind? Well, here’s where it gets put to amazingly good use!

Plop it in there to simmer in the sauce. It imparts a flavor unmatched to anything else.

Cook for 60 minutes stirring occasionally and reducing constantly. I place a splatter screen atop the pot to avoid that sauce working like cement later when I’m cleaning up.

Add some granulated sugar and continue reducing until thick, about another 20 minutes. It’s at this point that I recommend tasting for seasoning, not specifically salt and pepper, rather additional sugar.

I love my marinara on the sweeter side, so tend to go a bit heavy on the sugar, anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4-cup. You do you. Keep the marinara warm on a rear burner while you work on the meatballs.

Make a Tomato Confit

This is optional; however, I do this because I really do love the caramelized ‘crust’ the confit tomatoes create on the outside of the meatballs. Plus, I get to use a touch of the olive oil they roast in for brushing on baguette or Italian bread rounds.

Half the confit garlic and tomatoes are then poured into my skillet along with fresh rosemary branches and used to sear the meatballs. The other half are poured directly into the sauce to intensify the final product.

An extra step? Yes. A delicious step? YES!!!

Using any small-ish tomatoes (I am using 15 cherry tomatoes), load them whole into a small baking dish along with three large cloves of peeled garlic and enough olive oil to almost cover them. Roast in a 425°F over for 25 minutes before removing and cooling slightly.

Make the Meatball Mixture

In a large bowl, use your hands to mix the ground pork, chuck or lean ground beef, ground veal, shredded provolone, ricotta, parmesan, pecorino, breadcrumbs, eggs, salt, pepper, and some finely chopped cloves of garlic. Mix loosely but mix well, making sure you do not “pack” the meat.

Roughly divide the mixture in half, then each half in half, and lastly each quarter into halves so you have 8 portions. Form into balls that are about 2 1/2-inches to 3-inches in diameter.

Sear the Meatballs

If NOT using oil from a tomato confit, add a little fresh olive oil to a large skillet. If using a confit, spoon most of the oil and about half the tomatoes into the skillet.

Add three or four fresh rosemary branches to the skillet and heat over medium-high. Reduce slightly if the oil begins to pop.

Once the oil is shimmering and the rosemary leaves are lightly sizzling, working in batches, add the meatballs. Cook, turning until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. The meatballs will NOT be cooked through.

Use a slotted spoon to remove each meatball to the pot of sauce and repeat the searing process with the remaining olive oil and remaining meatballs. Once all the meatballs have been transferred to the sauce, add the remaining fresh basil leaves to the sauce and simmer all over medium-low heat until the meatballs are cooked through, about 1 hour.

Remove the cheese rind before serving atop a bed of your favorite pasta, in a lightly toasted sub roll with melted provolone, or simply ladled into a shallow bowl with a good amount of the sauce and a big hunk of crusty bread. Magnifico!

Modifying the Norm to Make It Not Entirely Average

  • Add whole links of cooked hot and sweet Italian sausage to the sauce to simmer with the meatballs for the last hour
  • Use red pepper flakes to add heat to the sauce directly and pass additional red pepper flakes tableside
  • Brown meatballs in the oven by baking them instead of pan searing
  • Swap out pork and beef and veal for alternate ground meats such as ground turkey or ground chicken
  • Swap out 1 of the 2 cans of the whole peeled tomatoes and prepare 2 pounds of blanched and peeled fresh tomatoes to combine with the remaining can
a fork, with a big meatball on the end

Hearty Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

Jenny from Not Entirely Average
This recipe for Meatballs with Marinara Sauce is entirely ‘guest-worthy’ when company comes and never fails to satisfy everyone at my table!
No ratings yet
Servings: 8 servings
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 8 servings
Calories 499 kcal

Ingredients
 

for the marinara sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 cup basil fresh, whole leaf, tightly packed
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice crushed
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups granulated sugar

optional

  • 1 2-inch rind of Parmesan cheese or other aged hard cheese rind

for the meatballs

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 – 5 fresh rosemary branches
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 10 ounces ground pork NOT sausage
  • 5 ounces ground beef chuck or lean ground beef
  • 5 ounces ground veal
  • 1/3 cup provolone cheese shredded from a large block
  • 1/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated from a large block
  • 1/4 cup pecorino Romano cheese grated from a large block
  • 3/4 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • 3 large eggs lightly beaten

optional

  • 1/2 cup tomato confit method in NOTES below

optional for serving

  • cooked spaghetti or other favorite pasta
  • toasted hoagie roll or sub roll
  • fresh chopped parsley

Instructions
 

for the marinara sauce

  • Heat the olive oil in a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic, cooking for 45 seconds to 1 minute before adding dried parsley, dried basil, half the fresh basil leaves, and a full cup of a good dry red wine. Bring to a low simmer and add Kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and two 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano's. If using a rind of parmesan or other aged hard cheese rind, drop into the sauce now. Cook the sauce over low heat for 60 minutes stirring occasionally and reducing constantly. Use a splatter screen to prevent the sauce from splashing.
  • At the end of the hour, begin by adding 1/2-cup of granulated sugar and continue reducing until thick, about another 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If additional sugar is required, add another 1/4-cup. Keep hot over a low rear burner.

for the meatballs

  • In a large bowl, mix the pork, chuck or lean ground beef, veal, provolone, ricotta, parmesan, pecorino Romano, breadcrumbs, lightly beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and garlic. Mix loosely but mix well, making sure you do not "pack" the meat.
  • Roughly divide the mixture in half, then each half in half, and lastly each quarter into halves so you have 8 portions. Form into balls that are about 2 1/2-inches to 3-inches in diameter.
  • If NOT using oil from a tomato confit, add a little fresh olive oil to a large skillet. If using a confit, spoon most of the oil and about half the tomatoes into the skillet, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a spoon gently. Add three or four fresh rosemary branches to the oil you are using. Heat over medium-high. Reduce slightly if the oil begins to pop.
  • Once the oil is shimmering, and working in batches, add the meatballs. Cook, turning until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. The meatballs will NOT be cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to remove each meatball to the pot of sauce and repeat the searing process with the remaining olive oil and remaining meatballs.
  • Once all the meatballs have been transferred to the sauce, add the remaining fresh basil leaves to the sauce and simmer all over medium-low heat until the meatballs are cooked through, about 1 hour. NOTE: if using a tomato confit, use a pastry brush to apply a thin amount of the flavored oil to toasted baguette or a homemade garlic bread if you like, and add whatever remains of the confit tomatoes directly into the sauce for added flavor.

Notes

Please Note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not use table salt or iodized salt in any of the recipes you find on Not Entirely Average UNLESS specified otherwise.
To Make a Tomato Confit Use any small-ish tomatoes (I am using 15 cherry tomatoes), load them whole into a small baking dish along with three large cloves of peeled garlic and enough olive oil to almost submerge them. Roast in a 425°F over for 25 minutes before removing and cooling slightly.
Store Leftover Meatballs and Sauce in an airtight container under refrigeration for up to 3 days. To Reheat, place on counter at room temperature for 15 minutes before emptying contents of container into a saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat for 25 minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally. Use a splatter screen to prevent the sauce from splashing.
To Freeze Leftover Meatballs and Sauce, load into an airtight and freezer safe container. Freeze up to 3 months. To Thaw, place in refrigerator overnight. Place on counter at room temperature for 15 minutes before reheating. Use a splatter screen to prevent the sauce from splashing.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 499kcalCarbohydrates: 38gProtein: 22gFat: 26gSaturated Fat: 9gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 137mgSodium: 1243mgPotassium: 368mgFiber: 2gSugar: 24gVitamin A: 466IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 223mgIron: 3mg
Keyword ground beef, marinara sauce, meatballs
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2 Comments

    1. Not a typo 🙂 The specification is based on a method learned from my time spent shadowing Portuguese and Italian cooks in New York City. Specifically, the use of 1/4 to 1/2-cup of sugar is standard in a marinara method at Di Palo’s Fine Foods and the result is outstanding. Taste as you go. If you want to start with less sugar, 1/4-cup say, taste once it’s added. If you are satisfied with an acidic finish, you needn’t add any additional sugar, just keep reducing. If, however you’re like me, I am looking for the middle of the road finish in terms of acidity and sweet and always add 1/2-cup sugar, taste, then reduce some more. I do not always use this recipe on pasta or in sandwiches or sliders. I do it for topping pizzas, too and in this case, I will share that I go as much as 3/4-cup to get the flavor profile I am looking to achieve for the recipe I plan to use the sauce and meatballs for.

      So often, I receive messages from readers telling me their grandmother ‘would never have done it this way.’ I like to approach my responses from both a cultural and food science perspective. In the case of this method, the tomatoes take a back seat to red meat; red meat elevated solely by the flavor profile: sweet and fruity. I would not have trusted the process myself had I not been guided by first- and second-generation Portuguese and Italian Americans making it for me the way their moms and nonna’s made it for them.