These Spicy Baked Italian Meatballs harbor so much flavor under their hood, be ready for a serious “I can’t believe these can be good for me” moment!
Are you a fan of Italian sausage but not so much of their high fat content and all those nasty fillers and add-ins that they tend to contain?
If you answered yes to that, then these Spicy Baked Italian Meatballs in Marinara Sauce are totally for you! These bad boys, they taste just like they’d been made entirely out of pure Italian sausage meat, but contain none of it whatsoever! In fact, mine were made entirely out of ground veal. Not a single gram of pork went into the making of those tasty meatballs. So even if you’re not a fan of pork, you can still make them!
I swear to you, these bad boys they harbor so much flavor under their hood, you’re honestly up for a serious “I can’t believe these can actually be good for me” moment!
Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever had a meatball so tender, so moist before…
You gotta be ready to put a little bit of effort into this dish, though, as it does demand that you spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. And that you form meatballs, too! I don’t know about you, but kneading meat with my hands and forming meatballs is probably my least favorite thing to do in the kitchen. That’s why I chose to make a larger batch of this: if I’m gonna get my hands dirty, I might as well make it worth my while.
If you want my advice, you shouldn’t even consider halving this recipe. Trust me, you’ll be SUPER happy to have leftovers. Especially since said leftovers, they tend to taste even better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two.
Bring these to the office for lunch, your co-workers will be drooling all over your plate. Some may even beg for a little taste, or steal a bite or two from you while you’re not looking!
In fact, you might have to hide in a corner if you’re gonna eat in peace. Good thing I got to eat mine in the comfort, and safety, of my own home. Working from home does have its good sides, you know!
Whatever you do, don’t go tell anyone that these tasty meatballs actually contain oatmeal… ‘cuz really, nobody needs to know. And believe me, they’ll never find out!
First course of action is to make the sauce… That part is incredibly easy and straight forward, too!
Simply combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan, stir and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Then, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
About the time you’ll need to work on those meatballs…
Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 425°F.
Then, you’ll want to combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large mixing bowl.
Like I said earlier, I chose to use all ground veal in my meatballs, but really feel free to use your favorite, or whatever you have on hand. Beef, veal, pork, chicken, turkey… they would all work well. Even a combination of 2 or 3 kinds of meat would be great! Beef, pork and veal, I think, would be absolutely grand!
Once all the ingredients have been added to the bowl, knead them well with clean hands, until they’re fully combined. Do not go overboard with the mixing though, otherwise your meatballs will be tough. Keep your fingers gentle and delicate.
Form the meat mixture into 15 to 18 meatballs, roughly the size of a squash ball.
I would never consider making meatballs without the help of my trusty, large spring-loaded ice cream scoop. It really helps in getting the job done quickly and efficiently: not only does it allow you to make meatballs that are consistent in size, it also pre-shapes them for you!
Oh, and please, be very gentle when you roll your meatballs, too. Keep that meat loose. If you were to squeeze the meatballs really tight between your fingers, then no matter how gentle you were in mixing the meat, you’d still end up with crazy tough meatballs.
Place a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and add a [generous] few tablespoons of cooking fat or oil to it.
Once hot, sear the meatballs in batches, about 6 to 9 at a time, until they get nice and browned all around, then transfer them to a plate while you work on the rest of the meatballs.
If you followed my instructions carefully thus far, your meatballs will be very delicate, so be extra careful when manipulating them. Better add more fat than less to the pan, this will help you out a great deal. And if you’re worried about adding too much fat to the pan, you shouldn’t be, cuz in the end, that’s precisely where it’s gonna stay: in the pan.
Chances are, your marinara sauce should be good and ready by now… Good thing cuz we’ll be needing it in a sec.
Once all your meatballs have been seared, cover the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ lasagna baking dish with a thin coat of that beautiful marinara sauce.
Delicately arrange the meatballs in the dish. Don’t be afraid to squeeze them a little bit if you have to, but again, be gentle. Those meatballs, they’re tender, I tell you!
Cover the par-cooked meatballs with the rest of the sauce.
Finally, mix the 3 kinds of grated cheeses together and sprinkle all over the sauce.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is bubbling on the sides.
Remove that piece of foil, set the oven to broil and place the dish under the broiler until the cheese starts to bubble and turns golden, about 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow the dish to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Trust me, that resting time makes a world of difference. Be patient and set the table in the meantime…
When the looooong wait is finally over, serve your meatballs topped with a handful of chopped parsley and a little bit of additional grated cheese, if desired.
Personally, I think that those meatballs are a complete meal in themselves, but if you’re really adamant on having a side dish, I’d say serve them with your favorite pasta, a little bit of cooked rice or my favorite, a healthy serving of steamed green vegetables, like broccoli or green beans.
And now, there is but one thing left to do: DIG IN!
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Spicy Baked Italian Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
These Spicy Baked Italian Meatballs harbor so much flavor under their hood, be ready for a serious "I can't believe these can be good for me" moment!
For the marinara sauce
For the meatballs
- 3 lb ground meat (beef, veal, turkey or pork)
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1-1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp chili pepper flakes
- 1 tsp salt I use Himalayan salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Make the sauce
- Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, while you work on the meatballs.
Make the meatballs
- Preheat your oven to 425°F
- Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large mixing bowl and knead well with clean hands, until fully combined. Do not overmix or meatballs will be tough.
- Form into 15 to 18 meatballs, roughly the size of a squash ball (a large spring-loaded ice cream scoop really helps to do this quickly and efficiently).
- Place a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and add a few tablespoons of cooking fat or oil to it. Once hot, sear the meatballs in batches, about 6 to 9 at a time, until they get nice and browned all around, then transfer them to a plate while you work on the rest of the meatballs.
- Once all the meatballs have been seared, cover the bottom of a 9" x 13" lasagna baking dish with a thin coat of the marinara sauce. Delicately arrange the meatballs in the dish and then top with the rest of the sauce.
- Mix all the grated cheeses together and sprinkle over the sauce. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is bubbling on the sides.
- Remove the foil, set the oven to broil and place the dish under the broiler until the cheese starts to bubble and turn golden, about 1 minute.
- Remove the pan from the oven and allow the dish to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with a handful of chopped parsley and serve with your favorite pasta, cooked rice or with a side of steamed green vegetables (broccoli or green beans are my personal faves)