This is how I make soft Oven Baked Italian Meatballs AND a tomato sauce entirely in the oven: place the meatballs on a rack placed over a baking dish with the sauce in it. The tasty meatball juices drips into the sauce and they brown beautifully all over. Oh – and they stay nice and round!
It’s Monday morning here in Sydney and I almost got sent to the naughty corner again. Because it’s the last Monday of April, and I almost forgot that it’s Monday Meatball Mania*. Gasp, shock horror! If Jo Cooks hadn’t prodded me, you would be reading a stir fry recipe instead of meatballs today! (And she would have gleefully declared herself to be the Meatball Queen while I sulked in the naughty corner).
* Monday Meatball Mania: On the last Monday of every month, my friend Jo from Jo Cooks and I each share a meatball recipe. Because we both love ball-shaped-food and think there can never be too many meatballs. Just making our contribution to make this world a better place!
So today I have something a little different for you – BAKED meatballs. This is the first meatball recipe I’ve shared that’s made entirely in the oven.
And I think this is a little different to most baked meatballs because not only are the meatballs made in the oven, the sauce is too. And the sauce is made entirely from scratch, using canned tomatoes. Not a store bought pasta sauce.
Here’s how I do it: I use my “oven sautéed onions” method that I also use for my Oven Baked Chicken and Rice recipe as the flavour base for the sauce before adding crushed tomatoes and seasonings. That little extra step really makes a difference to the flavour of the sauce, just like if you made it on the stove.
As for the meatballs – well, I know some people might think my rack method is mad, but it really works. The juices from the meatballs drips into the sauce (extra flavour!), the meatballs are elevated (rather than being on a tray) so they cook evenly all over and aren’t sitting in a pool of drippings and the underside is half “steamed” (from the sauce) which adds moisture into the meatballs (steaming always makes things more moist).
And the clincher for me is that the meatballs stay nice and round!!
To be honest, the main reason I started baking meatballs using this rack method is because I really hated losing the drippings which, when I make Italian Meatballs on the stove the traditional way, are used as the flavour base for the sauce. I used to scrape the drippings off the baking tray and tip it into the sauce. Then finally, I figured out this rack method. 🙂
So you might think me weird, but it really works, it’s healthier than the fried version (less oil), more hands off, and your meatballs come out nice and juicy.
I know I’ve said that before. But that’s an extra bonus for me because I think I’m a bit rough and tumble when I make meatballs – they get knocked around in the skillet a little too much and end up wonky! – Nagi xx
PS Forgot to mention – I make these meatballs using my fresh bread method soaked in grated onion. Hands down the best way to get max flavour and soft, juicy meatballs. Pinky swear. Reviews and logic can be scoured in my Classic Italian Meatballs recipe which uses the same meatball mixture!
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 24 oz / 800 g crushed tomato (2 x standard cans)
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tsp red pepper (chili) flakes (optional)
- 2 tsp dried Italian herb mix (parsley, basil, thyme, oregano)
- 1 tsp salt + black pepper
- 1 lightly packed cup of sliced white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces, crusts removed (Note 1)
- ½ onion, grated - including juices (yellow, brown or white)
- 14 oz / 400 g ground beef (beef mince)
- 3 oz / 100g ground pork (mince) or substitute with ground beef (beef mince) (Note 2)
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (Note 3)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (or parmesan), freshly grated
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Olive oil spray (or other oil spray)
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Parmigiano-Reggiano or parmesan, freshly grated
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Place onion, garlic and olive oil in a (approx) 30 x 25 cm / 12 x 10" pan (Note 4). Mix, spread out, then bake for 8 minutes. (Start the meatballs)
Remove from oven, add remaining Sauce ingredients. Mix.
Place rack on top of pan.
Turn oven up to 200C/390F.
Place the bread and onion in a large bowl. Mix to combine so the onion juice soaks the bread, set aside for 3 minutes. Bread should disintegrate into mush - if not, add a splash of milk or water to help it along.
Add all the remaining Meatball ingredients except oil spray. Use you hands to mix well.
Measure out very generously heaped tablespoons and roll into firm balls. It should make around 20 - don't make them too small, they will cook too quickly.
Place meatballs on the rack, ensuring they are positioned over the pan so the juices will drip into the Sauce.
Spray generously with oil.
Bake for 20 minutes. Optional: flick to grill/broil on high for 2 minutes at the end, to get better browning.
Transfer meatballs from rack into the Sauce. Stir to coat meatballs in Sauce.
Serve with spaghetti or other pasta of choice, garnished with fresh parsley and parmesan.
1. Bread is hands down the best way to make soft meatballs. It's particular important for baked meatballs which are firmer than pan fried meatballs. So I really encourage you to use bread instead of breadcrumbs! But if you prefer, you can substitute with ½ cup breadcrumbs - preferably panko breadcrumbs.
Plain white sandwich bread is best for this, but you can substitute with other breads. Chop or tear them into small pieces with your hands, and do not include the crust. You can use slightly stale bread, but fresh disintegrates better.
Some recipes use milk to soften the bread. Milk doesn't add any flavour to the recipe, so I opt to use the onion juices instead i.e. the juices from the grated onion. It adds fabulous extra flavour, and by grating the onion instead of chopped them, you don't need to saute the onion before mixing in with the meat.
2. Pork is slightly fattier than beef so it helps make these extra juicy. I only use 3½ oz / 100g because pork has less flavour than beef and I don't want to dilute the flavour. This isn't hugely critical though and you should feel free to just use 1 lb / 500 g beef mince which is what I do on ordinary nights. ?
3. You can substitute with 1 tbsp dried parsley, or a mix of equal amounts of dried oregano, thyme, basil and parsley. I use a store bought Italian herb mix.
4. The pan size doesn't need to be an exact science, just has to be big enough so the meatballs fit on the rack above without being squished together. Just make sure a rack sits on top of it!
5. SAUCE: With the classic way of making sauce for meatballs, it is made in the skillet after pan frying the meatballs so you don't waste the flavour left in the skillet. And it starts with sautéing onion and garlic. I use my "oven sautéed onions" method for this meatballs sauce, which creates a great flavour base for the sauce without having to start it off on the stove. This is the same technique used in this popular Oven Baked Chicken and Rice. 🙂
6. This is the baked version of my Classic Italian Meatballs which are a massive reader favourite!
7. Nutrition is per serving, assuming 4 (generous) servings, excluding pasta.
8. SCALER (hover over servings): This recipe can be scaled up and down, just use a smaller/larger pan. When scaling up, make sure the meatballs are not squeezed in too snugly on the rack otherwise they won't brown, and ensure that they are set over the pan so the juices will drip into the Sauce.
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
Oven Baked Italian Meatballs recipe video!
LIFE OF DOZER
When Dozer got sent to the naughty corner for breaking a plate I brought back from Japan, he just fell asleep. No respect. There’s just NO RESPECT!!!!!